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Getting Started Planning for the Year Ahead

We had our first Demonstration Garden meeting this past Tuesday to begin the planning process for 2014. Over the next few weeks we will be meeting in subcommittees to finalize the specifics of each area of the garden, but I can give you a sneak preview of what is coming this year.

2014 MapAs you can see, we are going to have a nice mix of traditional garden items as well as some more exotic plants. Stay tuned for the details in coming weeks!


The First Time Gardener: How I Decide When to Start Seeds

Figuring out the right time to start your seeds isn’t really that difficult. In fact, some people just start them at the same time every year and consider it done. That is certainly one option. I tend to go about it the long way around, even if it does usually end up the same. Here’s the process I use:

Step 1: Make a list of everything you are planning to grow.

This might seem very basic, but not everyone makes a list before planting! There are people that just go buy plants and seeds and stick them in without even considering anything else. If you were ordering seeds from a catalog, you probably already have a fairly comprehensive list. Here’s what my list currently looks like.

Veggie List

Step 2: Figure out what you need to start from seed indoors.

This step isn’t always as straightforward as you might think. A number of things can go either way. For example, lettuce. Are you going to direct seed it into the garden or are you going to transplant it? Are you harvesting it for baby salad leaves or as a whole head? Sprouting Broccoli? I don’t know…I’ve never grown it before! In the picture above, you can see I have a column marked DS/TP. That is my code for Direct Seed/Transplant. I’m going to go through the entire list and fill in one or the other. This way I can sort my list by that characteristic later if I need to.  It also gives me a quick reference for when I’m filling in the other columns so I don’t have to think.

If you aren’t sure what gets planted from seed outside vs. inside, here is the ever-handy Vegetable Garden Planting Guide. (You want to check page 2, column 2, where it says “Type of Planting.” Things you start indoors are labeled as “transplant.”)

Step 3: Decide how many of each thing I’m going to plant.

Again, this is a little trickier than you might imagine. If I were starting seeds for myself, I might just plant one extra of each thing. (I’ve told our Master Gardeners in the past that I always expect everything to grow, so I don’t like planting multiple seeds in each pot! Same goes here.) Because we are demonstrating a wide variety of different things, sometimes we are only planting one of each variety. Not much room for error! Because of that I typically will plant 3 when I only need one. That allows for germination problems and transplant problems. In my spreadsheet, I will just note the row length for direct seeded (DS) plants. (In the Veg. Garden Planting Guide, page 2, the columns labeled Avg. Spacing will help you figure this out if you aren’t sure how many plants fit in your space.)

TP and Number

Step 4: Determine when you are going to be transplanting all of these different vegetables.

Trust me. You have to decide when they are going out in the garden before you can determine when to start them. This year is a little trickier than normal, because we have a lot of things that are going to be transplanted in the latter half of the summer. If it is horribly hot, I would probably prefer to wait until August to plant. If it is an average summer, we could plant just before Tomato Day, which would be nice. Refer to page 3 of the Vegetable Garden Planting Guide to see approximate “plant outside” dates.

Obviously the things that will be direct seeded I mark with “NA.”

Transplant Date(Also note that I pick a specific day because we always have Demo Garden work days on Tuesdays. Occasionally the weather will outsmart us, but it usually works out.)

Step 5: Decide how many weeks you need to grow something and count back on the calendar from the projected transplant date to the projected seed planting date.

I typically allow 4 weeks to start tomatoes, because they are usually plenty big in that time. I would rather have them slightly small than slightly big. Basil is a quick grower, so that gets 4 weeks as well. Peppers and eggplant can be a little slower to germinate, so I will allow 6 weeks for them. In the fall, most of the brassicas only need 4 weeks to be large enough to transplant.

Complete Seed StartingHere you can see the completely filled in spreadsheet. This is the base plan, divided by garden. From here I will manipulate it so that everything is in chronological order. That way we don’t forget to plant something!

If you are interested in seeing the complete spreadsheet, here it is: Seed Starting Plan

Step 6: Start Planting!

If you are looking for some more in-depth information on seed starting, here’s another article: Seed Starting.

Planting Day!

Yesterday was our big planting day in the Demo Garden. Our first planting day in the new garden! Most years we have 2 or 3 days when we do some major planting, but because of the renovation we ended up planting pretty much the entire garden at once. I will say that I am missing all of the colors and textures that the spring vegetables bring to a garden, although we really didn’t have any choice but to focus entirely on summer vegetables this year.

The gals doing the Edible Flowers Garden were so on the ball that they had almost everything planted before I could take more pictures!  Here’s the post with the plan for this garden.

We have a whole bed planned for the cattle panel trellises again this year. Unfortunately, we planned the trellis garden for the landscape paver bed, which is slightly narrower planting space because of the width of the pavers. It makes the space under the trellises narrower and slightly harder to work with. I’m sure it will be fine, but it maybe shouldn’t have been the first choice! Everything in the bed was planted from seed – cucumbers, squash, and melons. Here’s the garden plan if you want to see what we planted.

Here’s a look at the Mexican Garden. We had jicama, Mexican oregano, tomatillos, peppers, and the Red Aztec Spinach ready to transplant. The jicama and some cantaloupe get to fight over the trellis! We also planted black beans and some zucchini. Here’s the map and original post about the plans.

As is tradition, we have an entire raised bed devoted to tomatoes. We are doing the Florida Weave method in half of it and tomato cages in the other half. Although I greatly prefer the Florida Weave method, I think that due to the width of our bed, it is probably not the most efficient use of space with our current layout. Here’s the post about the plans and the varieties we’re growing this year.

Our Family of 4 Garden is smaller this year. It is about 14′ x 4′ as opposed to the 25′ x 4′ that it has been the last few years. We’ll of course take that into account with the dollar amounts we accrue over the season. We’ll also expect lower numbers since we don’t have any spring crops in. Apparently I somehow overlooked writing a post about our plans for the Family of 4 Garden. Here’s a picture of the bed plan:

This is our long plastic lumber bed with the two square second tiers. Half of the bed will be for the Prairie Star Annual Flower trials, and the other half is the Family of 4 Garden. As you can see, we have a pretty limited range of vegetables this year. Green beans, 2 zucchini, 2 cucumbers, 2 tomatoes, and 3 peppers. We should be able to get some fall things in after the beans and maybe after some of the other plants as well.

In the Beautiful Vegetables Garden, the first step was putting up some T posts to use for a bean trellis. We were going to use a wire trellis, but I think they are now planning to use a wire with twine hanging down for the beans. I’ll show more pictures when they get that project done. Meanwhile, here’s the original post with the plans.

I didn’t get an overview picture of the New & Unique Vegetable Garden, but I did take a couple pictures of the Litchi Tomato. It is just starting to develop its prickles, so you can’t really see them yet. I can foresee taking lots of pictures of this cool plant this summer. Here’s the bed plan for the New & Unique Vegetable Garden.

I think that’s it for this round of planting! We still have the 2 herb beds to plant as well as the Prairie Star Annuals (which arrived yesterday afternoon) and some of the containers.


Garden Plans for 2012: Vertical Garden

Except for the annual & perennial herb gardens and the areas with flowers, this is the end of our garden plans for 2012. As I am writing this post, the Ditch Witch is making quite a racket outside my window digging out where the drain lines will go.

This is our second year of doing a “vertical” garden of trellises. We will be using the same cattle panel trellises that we used last year. While we probably could have fit 6 trellises into the garden, we decided to stick with only 5 so that there is more space to get between the trellises to work.

We also originally planned that this garden would be to trial a bunch of different cucumbers. However, we decided that a whole garden of cucumbers was likely to be a little much. So, we ended up with half the garden planted to cucumbers and the other half to a mixture of squashes, melons, and pumpkin.


We chose to grow 2 types of long, slicing cucumbers, 2 types of mini snack cucumbers, and 1 pickling type. (The Family of 4 Garden is also trying another type of pickling cucumber, so we decided that would be our comparison with our pickler.)

The two slicing types are ‘Suhyo Cross’ and ‘Sweet Success.’ If you’ve been following the blog for a couple years, you might remember that we grew ‘Suhyo Cross’ in the Asian Garden 2 years ago. It was extremely productive, but the fruit were a bit ugly because we didn’t use a trellis that year. ‘Sweet Success’ is an older All America Selection that has an excellent flavor, although the cucumbers aren’t always the most beautiful, uniform shape. I’ve grown it before, but we haven’t had it in the garden here.

The two mini snack cucumbers are ‘Cucino’ and ‘Rocky.’ Both produce cucumbers that are 3-6″ long at maturity with thin skins. Both varieties are new to the garden and to me. ‘Rocky’ is seedless and doesn’t need pollination. It is also supposed to be an early and prolific producer.

Our pickling cucumber is ‘Salt & Pepper,’ which is a white cucumber with black spines. It is definitely our “novelty” cucumber for the year. We will be comparing it to ‘Homemade Pickles’ in the Family of 4 Garden.


We chose two winter squashes for the garden, ‘Pinnacle’ Spaghetti Squash and ‘Sunshine’ Kabocha Squash. The spaghetti squash variety is supposed to be a “personal sized” squash, weighing in at about 3 lbs. The kabocha squash is a bright orange-red that almost looks like a pumpkin. It will be a little larger at 3-5 lbs each. The vine is supposedly a “short vine” compared to some squash, but it should still do well on the trellis.


Neither of the two melons are average cantaloupe this year. (We will be reprising the ‘Tasty Bites’ cantaloupe in the Mexican Garden.) The Kazakh melon is an heirloom that I have grown in the past. It is a small, yellow-skinned melon that has very sweet, floral, white flesh. The ‘Honey Orange’ Honeydew Melon is an orange-fleshed honeydew that I have tasted in the past, and it is also very sweet and flavorful.


We decided to try a pumpkin this year, since they don’t have to be any larger than squashes or melons. (No, we’re not going to try a giant pumpkin on a trellis!) ‘Lil’ Pump-ke-mon’ is a small novelty pumpkin that could be used for decorating or eating. The pumpkins are about 5″ in diameter and 3″ high, with white and orange stripes.


Garden Plans for 2012: Mexican Garden

Another one of our theme gardens this year is the Mexican Garden. This garden is going to be a fun mix of more commonly recognized vegetables with some uncommon vegetables!

We relied heavily on Rosalind Creasy’s book, The Edible Mexican Garden, for inspiration in planning our Mexican Garden.

Starting from the left side, we of course had to put in several peppers. Since we had so many peppers last year, we didn’t want to go crazy. Still, we have 6 peppers, ranging from serrano to bell peppers. Then we have a few rows of a black bean that can be used as either a dry bean or a fresh shelling bean. With the amount of space allotted, we know that we won’t get tons of beans, but it should be enough to have fun growing them.

Of course, the herb most people associate with Mexican cooking is cilantro, because it is in salsa. Unfortunately, cilantro doesn’t like the heat here very much in the summer, so we are also growing culantro. Culantro is an herb that has a similar flavor to cilantro but much better heat tolerance. We’ll also have a Mexican Oregano plant.

Cantaloupe are also a native Mexican vegetable/fruit! We are reprising the ‘Tasty Bites’ melon from last year on a trellis, as well as giving a shot at growing jicama. Jicama is a tuber vegetable, but the plant is a huge vine. It needs a long growing season, so it will be fun to see if we get anything from it.

You might have noticed that we skipped the tomatoes in the Mexican Garden, in favor of 4 tomatillo plants. Supposedly tomatillos produce better if they have another tomatillo as a pollinator, so we decided to try a purple tomatillo (2 plants) and an large green tomatillo (2 plants).

The two zucchinis are a paler grey color, rather than a typical green or yellow on a summer squash. The ‘Ronde de Nice’ is actually a round zucchini.

All the way on the right side of the map, we have 2 plants of ‘Aztec Red’ Spinach. Don’t let the name fool you – this is not a spinach in the sense we normally use it. It is a native Mexican green called Huauzontle (or Huauzontli). It is in the same family as Lambs’ Quarter, a common weed, which is also edible. The young, tender leaves of the huauzontle are eaten, as well as the immature flower buds. This will be a fun one to experiment with on some recipes this summer!