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Garden Planning: The end dictates the beginning

1939 NJ bean pickers (courtesy Lib. of Congress)

Not that Aunt Toby would ever discourage anyone from gardening (digging around in the dirt is your Aunty’s favorite sport), but let’s be realistic about this: If what you are looking to end up with this year from your gardening is a houseful of food, then a whole lot of thought has to go into the planning NOW (actually, it might have even been last month, but I know you’ll forgive me).

There are certain vegetables which are more efficient in terms of producing a lot of sheer stuff than other vegetables are. For example: We have 5 beds which are about 12-15 feet long and 3 feet wide. If I devote one whole bed of those into regular peas (not sugar snaps or edible podded or that sort of thing), I will probably end up with 3, 1 gallon bags of shelled peas for the freezer. Which is very nice indeed. If I plant Sugar Snap(tm) peas, because I will be using not only the peas inside but also the entire pod, I will get much much more to freeze. Compare all of that to if I plant, for example, tomatoes. In that same bed, I can probably plant 8-10 indeterminate tomato plants and even if I have a horrible summer, I’m going to get at least a bushel of tomatoes for freezing or canning in addition to all the fresh tomatoes I can eat through the harvest period.

So, it all depends on what you are gardening FOR, as well as why you are gardening. It’s a very big deal, actually because with people worrying more and more over the quality of their food, and the issues of BPA in commercial canned goods, and so on, there is more and more interest in gardening. And there is a certain amount of dissatisfaction from people when at the end of the summer’s work, they end up with half a dozen ziploc(tm) bags of frozen beans and broccoli in the freezer and have spent several hours boiling down tomatoes for sauce and end up with 3 jars.

They feel discouraged.

Here is where planning comes in.

There is nothing to say that you cannot have two garden plans. One for the at-home garden for fresh eating all through the summer and early fall months and if you have extra you can dry, can or freeze it. The second one is for real production, and for that, I suggest this: Make friends with your local CSA growers or the guys at the farmers market. They are growing a lot of stuff and you can make arrangements to either go out and do ‘u-pick’ at their farm (if they have one of those operations), make a bulk purchase (“I’d like to pick up two-bushels of paste tomatoes next week at the farmers market”), or buy extra shares on the CSA for certain things. Now, you will be wanting to check with all of these growers and ask about growing conditions, what they are using on the crops and so on. Then you can make decisions as to which grower to use. But it also puts YOU in the drivers seat in terms of ending up with what you want. If what you want is row upon row of canned tomatoes, peppers, beans, mixed squash and so on in your pantry for the winter (mmmmm), then you will want to partner up with your local growers for sure. It’s a better use of your time for those commodity veggies.

For the home garden, then, what you want are things which are best eaten as fresh as possible – greens, kale, snap peas, and corn.

OK, and sweet corn. I’m not a big fan of sweet corn but if you are, devote a bed to it. And be prepared to feed that stuff with compost and manure and fish meal and anything else you can lay your hands on. Corn is just voracious. I think you really have to love that stuff. But the problem with corn is this: There is a window of when it’s best to pick it, and you need to grow a certain number of plants of it in order for you to get proper pollination (what fills out the ears of corn), and production goes in this 10-80-10 sort of conformation (that is, you will have 10% harvestable early, then a bit later, 80% of it needs to be harvested immediately, and then it peters off to 10% again), which means that you need to either have a whole lot of friends over for a corn boil or be prepared to do a whole lot of canned or frozen corn at one fell swoop. And that 80% of the corn never, ever comes in on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. it’s always on Tuesday or Wednesday, and if you leave it on the plant for the weekend when you have time…..

Well, we all know what cardboard tastes like. This is why we don’t grow corn anymore at Chez Siberia. Freezing or canning cardboard doesn’t make it taste any better in January. It STILL tastes like cardboard. Mushier, but still cardboard.

So, here’s a tip: Sit down and plan out a couple of things.

First, what do you want to accomplish this year with your gardening? Fresh? Preserved for the winter? Both?

Second, what veggies do you and your family like to eat and eat a lot? I love chard – I adore eating it. I am literally the only person in my family who will eat it (sort of like mince pies, actually). One short row in the garden is plenty for me. We eat broccoli by the mile at our house. I can grow some of that here, but for freezing purposes, I need to partner up with my local U-pick person. So, I’ll grow a half a bed of that sort of thing here and do U-pick for the rest. We like salads and greens and Chinese veggies for stir fry – those are all very doable in the garden here at Chez Siberia, as well as tomatoes for the ‘fresh and a bit of canning and freezing’. If I check the pantry and decide that this year is tomato canning time, then again, I will partner up with the farmers market folks or do U-pick. I’m not a CSA member but I’m seeing the ads for ‘want to be a member of our CSA’ locally which means that if YOU want to be a member of a local CSA (that is “community supported agriculture” — you buy a ‘share’ of the production of the farm that year), you need to hop on that right now. If you want to find a CSA near you, go here CSA Finder.

Simple as that.

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