Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Planning the Garden

We have a great vegetable garden. Ten years of composting has created some wonderful soil.

When we moved here in 1997, we set up 8 4X4 raised beds, using cinder blocks. We grew some tomatoes and peppers, and usually some sunflowers.

Last year we expanded the growing area to 2 raised beds, 4 by about 18, by removing the cinder blocks between some of the raised beds, and tilling up the walkways. I wanted more space because I wanted to be able to produce enough vegetables to allow my husband and me to eat locally for as much of the year as possible.

This year I'd like to really optimize my growing space. I turned to my library, where I had a book on my gardening shelf, Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew. It's too bad I didn't remember the book before I changed the size of the beds, but I think we will manage OK.
I also am thinking of changing what I plant- growing things that I am not able to purchase locally. Here in rural Central Pennsylvania I have access to a lot of farm stands where I can purchase most common vegetables. What I can't get are things like dried beans or vegetables that are out of the "norm".
This year we will put in 4 kinds of lettuce- Winter Density, a green Bibb-Romaine, and Eruption, a red Bibb Romaine. We are also trying Focea, a green butter head and Magenta, a red Summer Crisp. All of these can be planted close together to be picked as "mini-heads" at about 5 to 7 inches in height. I'm going to do better with my leeks, as well, planting Tadorna, and not planting so many, so close together. I just couldn't bring myself to thin them out last year.

From Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, my list includes Aconcagua peppers, on the advice of In My Kitchen Garden blogger Susan. I've got these in mind for the Ajvar ,the Bosnian roasted pepper spread I have developed a passion for. Ajvar calls for eggplant; in the past I haven't had much success with eggplants but I think about them every year. I haven't decided yet on them. For a little heat, I think we will go with Black Hungarian peppers, and for the Mexican food I love, Numex Big Jim and Pasilla Bajio.

I also want to try a variety of dried beans this year. We are not very fond of green breans, so they haven't had a place in our garden. But this year I want to try Broad Windsor Fava Beans, California Black Eyed Peas, and an heirloom Missouri Black eyed pea variety. I might also try Missouri Wonder, a dried bean that looks (and I hope tastes!) like pinto beans.

From Victory Seeds, I want to try French Green Lentils, as well as Petite Crimson. I was surprised to find out that lentils are a relative of vetch, and actually grow on a very short plant, that can be planted 20 per square foot. They are a cool weather plant, so I will need to get the seeds soon.

Last year we grew far too many tomato plants. I bought too many, and then allowed the volunteers to grow as well. This year I want to start the seeds, and only grow 2 types; Flame and Striped Roman. I may drop the roman tomatoes. While I can't get striped ones locally, I can buy red ones by the bushel.

I also planted too many summer squash last year. This year I will go with one variety of patty pan, probably Yellow Scallop and a winter variety Rouge Vif d'Etampes. I'm tempted by Atomic Red carrots, and perhaps Deep Purple. Last year I put in way too much Bright Lights chard- we'll have it again, but just a couple of plants! And finally, something I discovered for the first time this year is collards- I'll be putting in Flash.
This year I want to let some of the onions get large- in the past we have always pulled them to eat as green onions. And we're going to try a new way of growing potatoes, from a tip in the February/March issue of Mother Earth News, using cardboard boxes.
My biggest problem is that I like the planning of the garden, and the harvesting of the garden, but I'm not so big on the parts in between! I'm hoping that by using the Square Foot plan, I won't become overwhelmed.

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