Dig for Victory: Planning for the win

planning gardening

Dig for Victory is a primer for the kitchen gardener. Every few weeks or so we’ll publish a new post to build on our technical knowledge of gardening. You’re under the capable hand of Steve here. Let me know what you think and if you’d like anything in particular to be covered. Enjoy!

My garden has evolved over the last few years to feed my family of four; I even sell enough so that inputs, with the exception of labour, are pretty much paid for. It’s about 80m² and is made from 18 beds (3m X 1.5m). My kids love to eat vegetables fresh from the garden—beans, carrots, broccoli and salads—the carrots rarely make the table and are often a get-home-from-school snack.

Yet this wasn’t always the way. During the first year of gardening here, I grew a bed of potatoes that lasted us for three months; they were mostly Dutch Creams, because many of the Kipflers got scab. The year following I planted two beds of mostly Nicolas and Purple Congo potatoes that satisfied us for nine months. This year I’m planting four beds of potatoes—a mix of Dutch Creams, Nicolas, Purple Congos and Pink Fir Apples—which should suffice for twelve months, with surplus for planting in 2014 and to sell, to cover the costs.

Yet if you consider that I have five beds of garlic maturing that can’t be harvested until close to Christmas, it means I only have nine beds left for everything else: beans, summer brassicas, cucurbits, leafy greens and solanums. Because I’m located in a cool temperate climate zone at 1000m above sea level, I have a short growing season, so planning is essential.

Seven reasons why you should plan
Do you plan your garden or are you more haphazard? Here’s why you should consider it:

  • By noting measurable outcomes you can improve them, take my potato story, for instance.
  • You can avoids the rookie mistake of “plant everything now it’s Spring” which makes for gluts; several smaller plantings over intervals means you have a continuous harvest over a long period.
  • You can decide if gardening is financially worth your while by visualising your spending in terms of inputs and outputs.
  • It’s good to research and note which varieties suit your gardening style and preferences. For example, I grew “Waltham” broccoli last which had months of side shoots that I could continually harvest. Whereas this year, I grew “Romanesco” broccoli that seemed to take a long time to come to maturity and is a one off harvest. This isn’t a good thing when I want to save space and maximise yield.
  • It forces you to think about what you eat and in what volumes so you can allocate, like how many beds you need for any given crop.
  • You can record your own observations or alternatively, advice from more experienced gardeners.
  • You can build a body of information on pests, diseases and weeds that can help in your management to break breeding and seeding cycles.

Planning crops
It may seem difficult to visualise overlapping crops and know how long things will take to grow; some crops are fast, some are slow. When you plan you could group crops in different ways, here are two examples:

  1. Bulk crops (e.g. potatoes and garlic) and fancy (e.g. variety of leafy greens like raddichio).
  2. Regular plantings for whole plant harvest (e.g. lettuces, pak choy and carrots), bulk crops (e.g. potatoes and garlic) and ones that stay in the ground for regular harvesting (e.g. capsicums, eggplant and Spring and Winter brassicas).

All you need is a notebook to draft design plans and measurements, make observations, record advice and plan out rotations. You can note when seedlings have sprouted to roughly calculate when something should be harvested. This may sound a little rigid, but if you plant something that should take two months to grow and four months later you are still waiting, something has gone wrong somewhere and you can learn from this.

My family eats a lot of salads throughout the year; we tend to eat whole lettuces in summer and mesclun mix in winter. So we pretty much always have a couple of beds devoted to leafy greens in various stages of growth. During summer I interplant these with spring onions, which don’t take up much room but are easy to grow, taste great and can be used in a lot of different cuisines.

Succession planting
In my cool temperate climate with short growing season I’m still working out the best timing for succession planting. Yet I tend to plant by this rule of thumb: plant an area (beds or rows) and wait till the first set of true leaves are up (the first set of leaves are not true leaves and are called Cotyledons) and then plant the next area. Succession planting has the effect of lengthening your harvest period and extending your season.

A good veggie garden will always have some blank space, ready for the next planting.

During winter I tend to overwintered weeds; remove spent crops; reshape my beds; eye off my compost pile; buy animal manures, seeds and propagating seedlings; separate rhubarb crowns; buy asparagus crowns; and think about irrigation.

With so much activity, last year’s planning and notes are invaluable.

cc pic by Growinnc

Related, elsewhere
Gardenate: Reminders to keep your garden growing – vegetables and herbs to plant right now.

In refusal of cheap fast food at university, Steve Fleischmann began growing vegetables. He is pragmatically organic with 20 years’ experience in Australia and overseas. Once a bush regenerator and project manager for youth environmental projects, he now works at Mamre Farm in Western Sydney with refugees, people with a disability and youths. Building soils, encouraging biodiversity and growing heritage varieties allows Steve the opportunity to feed his family, develop small scale enterprises and pass on knowledge and skills. Follow Mamre Farm on Facebook.

Dig for Victory
1. Soil I: soil type, improving soil and soil health test
2. Soil II: soil compaction and ph test
3. Soil III: nutrients
4. Plants and naming
5. Adapting to a new climate
6. Planning for the win

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