In the spirit of writing a monthly gardening blog post we usually start a new one by re-reading the previous months post. I recommend you do the same as a reader to get a full picture of what is going on. In September we did a lot of planning and preparing soil beds, we bought seeds and started them. This month we will get into a planting rhythm.
I like to reiterate that fact that vegetable gardens are not projects we put together and call done, a garden is never really "done, especially a vegetable garden. They are a pretty huge commitment, almost like a pet. You have to give them food and water regularly, check for health issues and prune routinely and of course enjoy them, spend time with them. Also, even after you fill your garden with fall plants its not "done" because those plants will be harvested and eaten, or removed after producing fruit, and that space will then become available for replanting.
The constant replanting of a garden is called succession planting. It helps to think about the fact that the far majority of plants we eat today are annuals. Our ancestors who hunted and foraged ate mostly perennials, which are plants that grow year after year, producing edible shoots, tubers or fruits on a continuous cycle. Those types of plants can be revisited for many years and harvested for edible parts. On the other hand annuals are plants that are biologically designed to have a short life span and produce one main harvest. As humans evolved we decided that we preferred annuals. Probably not for their practically, but because we could manipulate and control them. The very first annuls to be domesticated were grasses like wheat, barley and chick peas in the Fertile Crescent region of southwest Asia while in other parts of the world early humans began domesticating root vegetables, beans and corn. You all know the rest from there! Today our agriculture system is based almost entirely on a diverse range of annual vegetables that are replanted from seed regularly for a continuous supply of food. In fact, the majority of the annual vegetable varieties our agricultural system is based on are varieties we engineered. They are distant relatives of the wild plants humans found on earth hundreds of years ago. They are plants we have bread and genetically manipulated to perform within our stringent and fast passed agricultural system. The tomatoes, lettuces, carrots and corn of today probably wouldn't survive in the wild on their own, much like the breeds of pets we've also domesticated.
The trade off for creating a food production system that relies so heavily on human labor is increased yield and tastier plants. If managed properly domesticated annual plants are sweeter, more tender hence easier to chew and can yield a big harvest in a small space year after year. So lets looks at the home vegetable garden of today. In order to reap the benefits of your garden you gotta do a good job at managing your crops, otherwise you might as well plant wild perennial plants like they do in permaculture systems. Succession planting and regular harvesting are the keys to success in an annual garden. Many of the crops people enjoy growing at home are relatively short lived and produce food within 30 to 90 days! Think about how fast one month goes by and then think about how often you should be harvesting and replanting your garden. That's were an edible plant nursery like us comes in. Starting plants from seed is a challenging process and even professional farms struggle with it and usually dedicate a specialized person to that task. Buying starter plants makes a lot of sense especially when you are working with a small garden of 2 to 3 raised beds. The infrastructure, attention to detail and time needed to start certain crops from seed is usually not worth the investment for a small garden. Don't let that stop you from replanting your garden a few times. Some crops you will probably want to start from seed, but there is no shame in buying starter plants to keep the rotation in your garden fresh throughout the season. If you do want to start all of your own seeds we definitely encourage you to check out our youtube video on the topic, its super helpful!
Now let's talk about planning all of your plantings and your successions. New gardeners tend to have a really hard time figuring out the proper spacing of the plants in their bed and also where to put them. We like to suggest the "square foot gardening method" for figuring out how many plants you can fit into your garden. The technique is simple and is based on putting a grid over your raised bed (either a physical one made out of string or just a mental one on your planting chart) and then looking at a spacing chart for the crops they want to grow and seeing how many of that crop fit in one square foot. For example the chart below shows that a bell pepper plant needs one whole square foot of garden space and in the same square foot you can fit 16 radishes. On our website we have the square foot spacing of every plant we sell in the items description, which we think is a very good resource to use when planning your garden out.
As for where in the garden to place different crops, our general rule is to plant the tallest varieties in the "back" of your garden, which is the north edge, and then work your way south with smaller plants. So, things that need to be trellised like tomatoes and cucumbers, or tall plants like sunflowers or corn should be all the way on the north edge, with medium sized plants like peppers, eggplants, kales and cabbages next. We like to plant the southernmost edge of a garden with small and quick growing plants like cilantro, dill, arugula, lettuce, and french breakfast radishes. Its also best to keep "mounding plants" like thyme, oregano, nasturtiums and squash on the edges or tucked into the corners so they can spill over the edge and take up some extra space outside of the bed.
One tip we like to recommend for succession planning is to mark the plants in your garden with a variety name and a target harvest date. All annuals veggies have a "date to maturity" which is usually listed on the seed packet and we list dates to maturity for all of the plants we sell on our website! When you plant your seeds or baby starter plants mark the harvest date on a tag right by the plants in your garden. When the day comes you should feel more confident to get in there with a knife and bring your harvest in for lunch. Days to maturity is also helpful for fruiting plants like cucumbers and green beans, because crops like that are bred to make you food and then stop making you food , so once you reach the maturity date, harvest some beans and then they stop you know to pull the plant out and plant something else. The date marking technique also serves to point out when something has gone wrong with the crop. If it isn't even close to ready on the harvest date it's a sign that there is an issue. Waiting longer will not yield you a harvest. Waiting longer will just waste time and space and you can pull those plants out and plant something else in that spot.
Lettuce up front, nasturtiums in the front corner and scallions in the back corner. Next in line are swiss chard and bok choi that are being harvested by the leaf. then marifolds and the largest crops, eggplants all the way in the back.
We recommend putting perennial hearty herbs like sage, rosemary thyme and oregano on the edges so that if they survive the summer they arent in the way of cover cropping the whole bed.
Here is a bed at our old nursery with a square foot grid in place ready to be used for easy planting.
Don't forget to come to our fall plant sale October 15th - 17th to stock up on fall plants! And if you want to avoid the crowds or aren't ready to plant our nursery will be open every Saturday through the end of the year from 10am - 5pm.