The Ultimate Garden Plan
Yes, that's my goal: to present a simple-to-execute vegetable garden plan for all of you who love the idea of the garden but the execution becomes fraught with mistimed ambitions and then a runner up veggie patch in the summer. And for gardeners of all levels, I have conducted a thorough mind scraping and subsequent presentation of what my years of experience have taught me. The best part: it fits on a single sheet of paper.
So what do you love to eat? Grow what your palette most desires is my motto. In our gardens, we stretch our palettes and continue to try new foods as we learn about them. By way of example, we made room for 3 pear trees (yes, pears!!!) after having consumed many out-of-this-world delicious, juicy, locally grown pears this past fall at our local farmers market. The best motivation for a successful garden is simply to grow your favorite foods. So, start with a list. I'm keeping this post to just vegetables and some popular herbs and companion flowers. Perhaps I will address our perennial fruit garden strategy sometime later this winter.
A well-timed sowing schedule rewards the gardener with a continuous harvest from the height of summer well into the frosty depths of autumn.
Three types of plants
I tend to divide my vegetables into three general categories. Use these categories to decide what you can start yourself and what you will want to buy as starts:
Best sown from seed, directly into the soil, when the soil is appropriately warm for the seed being sown. Snow and snap peas, green beans, radishes, corn, carrots, zucchini, winter squash, melons, cucumbers, garlic, and leafy greens fall into this category.
Crops that can be started ahead indoors from seed or sown directly into the ground. The best part? You choose. Broccoli, kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi, bok choy, beets, cabbages, fennel, basil, cilantro and parsley are in this group.
Crops that need at least 8 weeks indoor growth before transplanting. With these crops, you either need to commit to a small light and indoor grow space or just plan to buy starts when they become available at your farmers market or garden center. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, onions, thyme, rosemary, & some annual flowers encompass this brief but popular group of vegetables and herbs.
My Recommended Sowing Guide
for Continuous Harvest
Here is a downloadable pdf version: Seed to Fork Sowing Chart
And here is a downloadable pdf version for sowing without season extending measures: Seed to Fork Sowing Chart - no hooping
Why Start So Many Plants From Seed
If you can just drop beets and lettuce, broccoli and parsley seeds into the earth and they will grow successfully, why the heck do we spend the extra effort and start them indoors and then transplant, you may ask? For one, I find germination rates are higher. Also, I care for the little pots (new this year will be soil blocks for us) with more precision than I am able to outdoors in our garden space. There are no weeds competing for the sunlight. Our plants have a stronger start. These are my second category from the section above. These can also be sown directly, but our preferred method is the indoor head start and I wanted to present that option here for you to ponder.
I hope you will use my list to help you brainstorm what you want to grow. May this chart provide inspiration and ideas for your home garden. The crops I have detailed as 'Direct Sow' in the bottom half of the chart really only do well when you buy seeds and sow them yourself. These are among my favorite crops, for you witness their birth right before your eyes and they possess from their first moments of every bit of knowledge they need to provide you with food in a few months time.
Also remember those 'commitment' crops like tomatoes and peppers, and that they can be easily procured at your garden center. These are investment crops, investment in your time and space. We enjoy starting our growing season in February, mentally, and we have relished in developing and honing our indoor growing system with each passing year. This should not inhibit you from growing these foods - just buy starts if it's too much, and don't for one second regret it.
The Fine Print
So, there are caveats to this. Here they are, in no particular order.
We push our growing climate to its extremes, and implement season extending methods to achieve the desired results. This includes row covers for the first transplants that go into the garden in late March/early April.
If you don't want to be that extreme and you live in zone 4 or 5, skip the first sowing recommendation and wait to start your plants until my second sowing; plan to purchase tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants from a farmers market or garden center.
We also start the same set of crops up to 3 times in a growing season (indicated as SI1, SI2, SI3 in chart). If you are new to gardening, I recommend to follow my second sowing schedule (or if there's only one, just follow that) and you will have a lovely spread of veggies.
If you live in a warmer climate (zone 6+), you can follow my first sowing and transplant dates and you won't need to worry about row covers. Also, your harvest times will extend deeper into Autumn because of your later first frost dates.
Harvest times vary according to variety. We plant a wide range of seeds to spread maturity out over as long of a window as possible. It's fun and practical to garden this way.
Planting your starts earlier than your recommended last frost date may result in your plants being exposed to a late frost. Take precaution with your seedlings accordingly.
I also start my squashes and cucumbers in pots, but get them in the ground immediately because their roots cannot be disturbed. Sowing them directly in the ground as I recommend above I believe is easier for new gardeners and will yield similar success.
While we start some things super early, from experience I have come to the conclusion that waiting to start our cucumbers, squash, and melons until the soil is warm is ideal. For me, that means waiting until the first week in June to sow these crops in the garden.
If I think of anything else, I promise to add it here. Happy planning!