Monday, January 3, 2011

Planning Your 2011 Garden

Snow covers the ground, the days are short, the wind is cold, and seed catalogs are arriving in the mailbox. Time to plan your 2011 garden! A hot cup a tea, a warm fire, and notes from last year's successes and failures... perfect for dreaming and shopping for just the right tomato varieties! But before you finish your order form, keep in mind some of these planning ideas...

Photo Credit: cafemama

2011 Gardening Goals and Considerations

• It's hard to know in January what food prices will be like in August. Or what food items will be available. Take this weekend for example: A big snowstorm is expected and I ran in the grocery store to pick up a couple of items before heading home, only to find the entire section of chicken wiped out. I mean, picked clean! Nothing. Zero. Apparently the truck couldn't get through with a delivery. Who knows what the food scenario will be like 8 or 9 months from now. So I want to grow enough that I can meet my family's needs throughout the growing season. 

• Whether you garden organically or with conventional sprays and pesticides, you'll need to include enough plants for some "loss" due to gophers, deer, rabbits, other pests, and of course, some disease. A thunderstorm or hail could wipe out a crop as well, so plan on some succession planting instead of planting everything at the same time. Succesion planting is also helpful so that you don't have to eat the entire crop all at once. The exception might be an item you're canning in bulk and would need the entire crop in one harvest.

Photo Credit: run dorkas run

• Although I would much rather eat fresh foods as opposed to canned or dehydrated, I'll definitely include some plant seeds for food storage of some kind. Especially tomatoes since their lycopene increases when canned. And having a selection of pickled items is always a bonus. Planning ahead keeps costs down, otherwise you'll end up paying the farmer at the market for those pickling cucumbers!

• Typically when I plan my garden, I only buy enough for my family and a little to give away. This year, I want to specifically grow produce for three additional people: a widow in our church who lives near by and an elderly couple who don't grow vegetables anymore. I'll still grow a bit for giving away, but I will specifically order seeds and grow plants for these three people. Perhaps in time (perhaps a couple of years down the road), I'll grow enough food for all my neighbors as well since none of them currently garden and if there was ever a crisis, they'd need to eat. But for now, I want to aim my limited resources to those who can't garden themselves and could benefit from the produce, especially since they are all on limited incomes.

• I really don't need a bunch of extra sweets at Christmas, and so I'm grateful when I receive something that is considered REAL food. This year, I got a lovely box of items from a friend that included some awesome pickled veggies. Such a treat during the holidays! So as I'm planning, I want to think ahead to next Christmas and plan what I might want to make and give away so that I can actually grow it myself. 

• Keep in mind not only your particular gardening zone, but your microclimate as well. Keeping records of varieties that work well in your area will make ordering a breeze the next year. You'll also want to consider the difference between types of seed: heirloom, hybrids, GMOs, organic v. non-organic, etc.

Photo Credit: Jackal of all trades

• Do you want a few flowers as well? Why not make your vegetable garden a potager and include some annuals and cutting flowers, or perhaps some flowering herbs! You'll find you want to be out in your garden more and more as it develops into a place of beauty, so don't forget the flower seeds!

• Add some herb seeds and you're food will be well seasoned all year. Herbs are easy to grow and easy to dehydrate. You'll save yourself the purchase price of store bought and they'll taste even fresher! 

• Last year I grew armloads of basil. Talk about prolific! I had enough to stock my freezer in pesto for the year. A friend who is a retired chef and now sells food to restaurants told me that the local chefs paid him $7 for a bunch of basil. Over at Thy Hand Hath Provided, her brother grew sunflowers to sell on an honor system. This year I plan to help my youngest start a small business growing cut flowers to sell. So don't forget to pick some seeds for food to sell!

So now you have some things to consider while picking out your seeds. Don't be surprised if your bill stretches over $100, $150, or even $200 depending on your goals! But if it saves you $400 in groceries every month for most of the year, then the pay off is worth it. I usually set aside some grocery money to cover my seed costs because, after all, it's food, right?

If you find that you've ordered too many seeds, trade with friends or just vacuum seal the remainder and place them in your freezer. Small mylar bags work will great for this. However, if you plan on using the seeds throughout the season for succesion plantings, place them in a ziplock back in the back of your refrigerator and use as needed.

Now, off to start narrowing down my selections!

What other considerations should one include in seed selection?


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