Designing Your Spring Veggie Garden

Bak choi is a great spring crop
Bak Choi

A client of mine, Deanna loves spring greens yet was daunted by lack of success with her spring garden.  She realized she didn’t really know how much space different plants needed. She also wasn’t certain what spring plants grow well with each other.  She had grown Bak Choi successfully, but that was about all.  She wanted to add more greens and cool weather root crops like radishes, carrots, beets and turnips, yet she was not sure how to integrate them with the greens.

In previous years, the root crops ended up being small at best and the greens ended up rotting. She was tired of buying what she felt like was wasted seed.  She had tried a couple times and wasn’t happy with the outcome.  When she came to me, this was one of her major concerns to insure productivity in her garden. She was so happy when she learned that some simple adjustments could make a huge impact on her productivity.

Here are a few ways she improved her spring garden.

Plant Spacing

plant spacing for your spring garden
Lettuce sown too close together is overly crowded.

When you direct seed it is harder to get plant spacing right.  Many folks only direct seed because they do not have a setup to start seeds indoors.  This was Deanna’s situation. She was direct seeding all her crops.  Seeds are small and can be hard to handle, so folks at the seed companies tend to expect you to scatter all the seeds in a packet in a row and then “thin” them so they have room to grow.  This is one way to give your plants more space, but a wasteful one.

It is far better to seed with wider spacing.  My rule is to seed at about 1/3 the spacing listed on the seed packet as the final plant spacing distance. This allows you to harvest smaller root crops or greens as they begin to crowd and leave some to get larger. You also don’t waste seed this way and can have one seed packet often last for a couple of years. Very handy to keep costs down.

Avoid scattering seed close together and then leaving them that was as they get larger.  This is how Deanna had rotting plants.  Not only, were so close they could not get any air circulation and rotted, but they did not have the space to grow to full size and produce the yield you would want.

If you fingers struggle with small seeds consider these options:

Buttercrunch lettuce from Territorial Seed Company
Territorial Seed Co.

Buy pelleted lettuce and carrot seed which is much easier. Check Territorial Seed Company for a variety of pelleted lettuce seed.

You can also get an inexpensive hand seeder that will allow you to dispense smaller seeds a bit easier. These can be super simple up to more sophisticated. Territorial has a selection of these also. One advantage is they can be used for all kinds of seeds.

If you have the advantage of being able to start greens seedlings indoors, it is easier to give each plant the space it needs. I still tend to transplant a bit close together and harvest every other or third one as they begin to crowd each other.  This extends the harvest and allows the remaining plants to get larger for harvest later and fills in the space so you are not wasting space in your garden.

rows of well spaced letttuce insure a good harvest

Timing

Another key to spring garden success is timing. Granted this is trickier as the weather gets less predictable and computer models are unable to keep up with climatic changes, yet there are some tricks you can employ.

Succession plant every two weeks for extended harvest First is to succession plant.  This is where you plant a new batch of the same crop about every two weeks. This gives you a couple advantages and can be done with either indoor or outdoor seed starting.

Outdoors, if weather turns too warm/hot/wet/dry for a crop, you can try again. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it is another way to spread out your harvest. This means you don’t harvest at once.  This is especially useful for root crops where you are harvesting the entire plant.

start spring seedlings indoors in winter

Valmaine Lettuce is great in all seasons
Valmaine Romaine Lettuce

Indoors, succession plant your spring greens and then transition to following those on with summer greens.  Some lettuces will take much more heat than others. A couple of my warm weather favorites here are Valmaine and Jericho romaines.  These can follow-on after cooler loving lettuces such as most of the butterheads.

Lettuces, cabbage and chard are cool loving crops and you’ll get an earlier harvest if you can start these indoors while it is still too cold to start them outdoors.  After you harden them off, they can be transplanted into the ground for your first greens harvest.  Spinach though, doesn’t transplant well so start that one directly in your garden.

As always there is trial and error in your specific microclimate and this is another reason for not scattering all your seed at once.

Companion Planting  

Spinach and beets are great spring companion plants
Spinach and beets are great spring companion plants

Another way to increase the use of your spring garden space is to interplant root crops with leaf crops.  Gratefully this is pretty easy with cool weather crops because most greens and roots combine just fine.

Lettuces are happy with all the cool weather roots.  Spinach and chard go well as they are in the same plants family.  Same idea with kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, turnips, rutabagas and radishes, which are all in the brassica family.

peas can feed the kale so they make great companions
Peas and Kale

Don’t forget a star of your spring garden – peas!  Peas thrive in spring so plant some of your pleasure be it snow peas, snap peas or shelling peas.  We love shelling peas best, granted they hardly make it out of the garden as I tend to just pick and eat them, fresh, raw and oh so sweet!! My favorites are Green Arrow and Alderman/Telephone Pole. Check the vine height of pea varieties to be sure they match your pea fence.  If you don’t have a pea fence, get one what doesn’t need support like Sugar Ann snap pea.  There is a reason why you may have heard “peas and carrots” they go tougher in the garden. Plant your carrots in front of your pea fence.

Pulling this all together

May people have asked me about how to design a spring veggie garden, so lets pull some of these tips together.

Choose your varieties and see when they will mature, if they can take some heat and how big they will be full sized.

Next use the companion planting tips to choose which plants to put in which bed.

Then decide how long you want to harvest each type of plant to create a succession planting schedule.  This will tell you when to start your seeds, be it indoors or out.  Remember root crops are all direct seeded.

Finally, choose a block of your garden for each set of plants for example, one for brassicas, one for peas and carrots, once of lettuce and radishes, etc.  Split up each block by how many rounds of succession planting you want.  So if you want three rounds, split it up into three sections.  Plant the first section, two weeks later the second section and three weeks later, the third session. Tada! You’ve designed your spring garden.

Get more resources on my Resources page

 

Companion plant cabbage and broccoli with root crops like carrots, betts, turnips and radish
Spring Boundy of Companion Planted Cabbages, Carrots, Beets, Brocolli and more!

5 Proven Steps to Starting Your Veggie Garden

As spring approaches, our thoughts go to gardening. Enjoy this snapshot of my solid step-by-step strategy to start a veggie garden.

Get a Free Workbook to do these 5 Steps: 

Step 1: Your Garden Dream, Vision & Goals

Basket of home grown tomatoes
Basket of home grown tomatoes

For Step 1: it is important to take time to document your garden vision, what goals you have, and your garden as you have dreamed it.  Many folks don’t take the time to document this, so their dream garden becomes a vaporous ‘some day’ vague memory, vs actualizing the manifestation of their dream.

Step 2: Observation & Assessment

To avoid making a mistake on the type, size and location of the garden you put in, take some time to observe your space, light, water and other resources as well as your time. This way you can be sure the garden you put in not only is in the best place, but also fits into your lifestyle, and that is where Step 2, Observation & Assessment comes in.  This is a critical step to be sure you get a garden that will work for you, and hence move you along that success pathway.

Step 3: Building Healthy Living Soil

a raised bed is one choice for your veggie garden
Building awesome living soil in a raised veggie bed

Healthy living soil is the foundation of any garden, so building soil that will support your garden and grow plants for you is Step 3. You probably know that chemical pesticides and fertilizers kill your soil, but did you know that tilling does too?  Tilling allows the carbon in your soil to be released into the atmosphere thereby depleting your soil of it.  This is why commercial conventional growers add fertilizers, because they have, by their actions, depleted it from their soil. The soil becomes nothing more than an anchor for the plants, but it is the life in the soil, that grows healthy lively plants.

Step 4: Choosing Quality Plants & Seeds

locally grown veggie plants
Get chemical-free plants

Step 4 is choosing quality plants and seeds for your garden.  Learn clues for buying plants, such as purchasing those with a USDA Organic tag or from small local growers you know are chemical free.  Checking in on seed companies to be sure they have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, thereby committing to only offering non-GMO seeds, and belonging to organizations committed to organic growing and sustainable biodiverse practices.

Step 5: Garden Layout & Planting

learn garden layout
Organic veggie & flower garden

Then, in the last step, it is time to layout where plants will go in our gardens and do our seeding and transplanting. Once you have done the other four steps, you can be confident that the garden you have built is the right one for you so those young plants and seedlings have the best chance of providing you the yummy home grown produce you desire.

Get a Free Workbook to do these 5 Steps 

 

Mix it up! Companion Plant your Annual Vegetable Garden

Make the most of your garden space by mixing flowers and herbs with your annual vegetables.

Backyard Foodscape
Backyard Foodscape incorporates flowers and herbs along with vegetables.

Pairing the right plants together, those that gardeners have observed grow well together, allows plants to do some of your garden work for you. This accomplishes several functions as we can see…

One classic example showing some ways plants work together is the native American corn/beans/squash combination:

Poll beans climb up the corn stalk, so the corn is the support, or trellis, for the bean.  So the corn just saved you from building a pole bean trellis. The bean is a member of the legume family of plants. This plant family are what are called ‘nitrogen fixers’, which means they capture nitrogen and store it in nodules on their roots, making it available for other plants to take it in. Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder, so in exchange for the support the corn gives the beans, the beans feed the corn. The beans just saved you from having to add something to feed your corn. The squash plants wind all around the base of the corn and beans, providing them shade cover to keep moisture in the soil longer for all of them. The squash just saved you from watering as much or putting down mulch to hold moisture in the soil.  A couple nice additions to this already cool combo are:

  • Sunflowers in the mix to also support beans and provide seeds for humans and birds.
  • Nasturtiums attract a ‘beneficial bug’ called hoverflies.  Beneficial bugs are so named because they prey on other bugs that like to eat your food, although, in a diverse ecosystem, all bugs are beneficial to maintain balance. Hoverflies like to eat bugs like aphids and thrips.  Nasturtiums repel loads of critters who want to eat your crops including: cabbage loppers, worms and weevils; squash, cucumber and bean beetles and more.  In addition, the leaves and flowers are edible!

Companion planting is a good way to design your garden beds. See what plants go together and plant in those combinations. Start with simple combinations and then get more complex over time. Good places to start are:

  • tomatoes/lettuce/onions/marigolds/parsley
  • peppers/basil/marigolds/chamomile
  • peas/carrots/lettuce
  • bush beans/potatoes/flax
  • cucumbers/radishes/nasturtiums/dill
Squash & Nasturtiums. Nasturtiums are good companions for not only cucumbers, but also squash and melons.

Another reason to use companion planting is it makes a beautiful garden, as these photos show, and remember, beauty is food too!

Container gardeners, you can do this too!  The same combinations apply, either in the same container, or containers that are next to each other.

I’ll write more companion planting, so check back.

3 Garden Design Ideas – Foundations of Organic Gardening Info Series

Put your herb garden in close proximity to your kitchen.
Put your herb garden in close proximity to your kitchen.

1. Think Permaculture Zones – The concept is simple, put the stuff you use most, or need to access most often, closest to your house. Put the stuff you don’t need to access much farthest away. So, herbs in easy access from the kitchen and fruit tress farther away since you only need to tend them a few times a year and harvest when the fruit is in season.

2. Maximize how you use your space – Layers are a good way to look at using your annual garden space to its maximum potential. Roots grow down, bushy plants like tomatoes are in the middle layer and vines like cucumbers and pole beans can climb.

3. Mix it up – Not sure what will be successful, try a mix of a small raised bed, a few plants in the ground and a few containers. Try the same type plant in each and see what works best for you.

Want more help turning your yard into a productive food oasis ?  You’ll get all the info you need in The Foundation of Organic Garden Course classes and workshops.

 

 

Yummy home grown figs can go farther away from the house
Yummy home grown figs can go farther away from the house

3 Garden Planning Factors – Foundations of Organic Gardening Info Series

There are many factors to consider when planning your garden, but here are three basic ones to get your started:

Garden beds on contour
Also consider your slope and build plan to use the contour of your property.

1. What do you like to eat. If you grow something you like to eat, and want to eat, you’ll be more motivated to take care of it, which translates into a more successful garden

2. How much space do you want to use. I tell people to start small even if you want to transform your entire property into food production. If so, do a whole property design, but then prioritize what order you want to create each area in. You can have it all, but take it a chunk at a time

3. How much light do you have in the space you want to use. Really knowing how much light you have in each area is critical to successful garden design, especially if you want sun loving plants like tomatoes and berry bushes for example. Cool weather crops that like shade in summer are easier because you have more options if you have shady areas. Knowing how much sun you have in each area of your space allows you to be more successful and not waste time trying to grow something that needs at least 6 hours of sun in a place that doesn’t get over 3 hours. Be realistic and grow what you can be successful growing, your rewards will be greater.

Want more ? Our  Foundations of Organic Garden Course   is packed with workshops and worksheets to help you.

5 Garden Design Tips

using companion planted garden design
Using Companion Planted Garden Designs is easy !

Fall & Winter is the best time to do your garden planning.

Many gardeners just do the same thing they have always done, planting in rows, or adding the same plants to their container garden.

Here are 5 tips to help you get more from your garden:

  1. Plan out our garden spaces before you buy seed or plants to maximize your investment
  2. Learn what plants grow well together to avoid stressed or weakened plants
  3. Get professional tips on growing the plants you like to grow to boost your garden’s productivity
  4. Find out what varieties garden experts recommend to increase your success
  5. Start with quality organic seeds and plants from trusted sources

Want all that in one place  ? … check out our new Companion Planted Garden Designs at the Prior Unity Garden Store