How hard it that, you may wonder? I may be strange, but I look at it as a yearly experiement, trying new things and researching what works together. It's as complex as you want to make it, but to maximize the health of your garden, and get the best yields, there are some steps to follow. I start in late winter, when it is cold and dreary and you need something to look forward to.
1. Select your seeds- peruse your seed catalogs and find the best varieties for your zone and site. Pay attention to disease tolerance.
- Try Heirloom Varieties: Bakers Creek is an excellent company with a nice website and catalog.
- Save Your Seeds: Even better, use your own seeds! See the book Seed to Seed for all about how to do just that.
- Rotation: To avoid pest and disease problems and to give the soil a break after high feeding crops, it is important to rotate plants of the same family each year. I highly recommend the book The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, I refer to it each year to plan my garden.
- Companions: Plants have friends that they like to hang around with. They may help each other grow in some way, or help deter pests. They also have plants they don't like like to hang around with. There is a good chart here and lots of good information in Gardening reference books like the one mentioned above.
- Organize: Number your beds for easy record-keeping and refer to previous year's garden plans.
- List: Write down a list of the plants you want to grow, and group by family. Next to each plant, write the bed numbers that are possible for that rotation and preferred growing conditions as well as it's preferred companions and/or plants to avoid.
- Puzzle Through: Look over your list and plan each bed. It make take a couple tries and shifting plants around to get the right mix.
4. Draw your Garden Plan - Draw a map of the garden from your list. Include number of plants and spacing (more research!)
5. Wait Anxiously for the Ground to Thaw- This is by far the hardest part of this whole process. Hopefully you are starting some seeds indoors and that will help with some of the cabin fever (starting seeds is a whole other post, stay tuned!).