A COUNTRY GARDEN PLANNER (Part 1)
How do you create a simple garden plan? Wintertime is when many of us begin planning for the vegetable and herb garden we want for the next year. There are many Garden Planners available for purchase, but using a simple notebook can serve the same purpose if you can’t find a Planner that suits you. This article will help guide you through the step-by-step process which can be a great deal of fun if you plan carefully.
The very best vegetable gardens always start with a PLAN!
- First, make a list of the vegetables you want to grow, and their characteristics.
- Decide what is your primary use for that vegetable.
- Figure out how much of this vegetable your family can use in a year.
- Determine how productive each variety is: Bumper crop vs. skimpy harvest.
- Be realistic: Consider how much room you have in your garden, and how much time you have available to care for it.
- Find the number of days to maturity of that variety.
- Hybrid vs. Heirloom seeds
- Start your own plants from seeds or buy from a greenhouse.
- Keep careful notes of specialized care that must be given to each type of plant.
- Use a good Companion Planting List.
- Always have a Backup Plan in case the vegetable varieties you want are unavailable that year!
Careful planning will make possible your GOAL of the ideal garden for you and your family.
STEP-BY-STEP GARDEN PLANNING
Let’s Get Started!
As an Example, let’s look at Tomatoes.
NOTE: This same Example can be used with any vegetable, etc. that you are wanting to include in your garden. Cabbage varieties, for instance, can be evaluated according to your intended primary uses such as coleslaw, sauerkraut, pickling, frying, etc. as well as determining the amount of cabbage that you typically use in a year.
Decision Making is often a process of elimination.
- Make a list of the things that are most important to you, such as low acidity and good flavor.
- Make note of the characteristics you don’t want:
Example: Tomato varieties that take too long in the season to mature.
- Identify those varieties that are skimpy on the amount of harvest you get from them.
- Then you consider compromises, since we all know you just can’t plant everything!
In this Example, I will concentrate on Heirloom Tomato varieties due to their intense flavor.
WHAT IS YOUR PRIMARY USE FOR TOMATOES?
The primary use you have in mind will determine the tomato variety that is best for you – – – and will help you decide how many plants you need.
- Do you want large tomato slices on your hamburger or club sandwich? If so, you might choose Beefsteak Tomatoes.
- Do you like tomatoes best in salads? Cherry or Grape Tomatoes might be an option.
- For making the best competition Chili in the world?
- Or tomato wedges on the plate in place of a cooked vegetable?
- For canning juice?
- For making spaghetti sauce? If so you might choose tomatoes especially bred for sauce or paste.
HOW MANY TOMATO PLANTS DO YOU REALLY NEED?
So, how do you decide on how many tomato plants you will need? If you only use tomatoes on occasion, be realistic about just how many you need to plant.
- Do you have a big family of die-hard tomato lovers to feed?
- If you just want a few for fresh eating, one tomato plant might do.
- If you want to can tomato juice and sauce, you might need to plant several.
Estimate how many canned tomatoes you will need for your family’s use that year. Due to their acid content, you can’t store them for several years, so don’t go overboard.
INDETERMINATE VS. DETERMINATE TOMATOES
Tomatoes commonly come in two types: Indeterminate and Determinate.
Indeterminate Tomatoes produce fruit till frost. You get more produce from Indeterminate Tomatoes, so you will be kept busy in the kitchen from Summer through Fall. They can grow 6 feet tall, often taller, and require staking.
Determinate Tomatoes are called Bush Tomatoes. They usually don’t need staking since the plants are shorter than Indeterminate Tomatoes. They produce all their tomatoes at once within a week or two. They need to be canned or made into sauce within a short period of time, so make sure you have a schedule that will allow for this.
Some tomato varieties are very skimpy with the amount of fruits they produce. Other varieties can inundate you with their bounty. Rather than trying to give away big sacks of tomatoes to your neighbors, it might be wiser to plant only a few.
It is best to determine what type of tomatoes will best suit your schedule.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE FOR GARDENING?
How much time do you have to care for your tomato plants and preserve the harvest? This needs to be decided before you begin. Enthusiasm wanes in a hurry when you are overburdened with outdoor work in the heat of the Summer or with bushels of tomatoes to process.
Garden crops that ripen at the same time that you usually take your 2 to 3 week vacation will cause regret. Plan carefully.
I have seen people go through the checkout line at the grocery store with a fist full of garden seed packets. They had snapped them up on impulse just because the photos on the packages were so pretty. Many times, they end up in the garbage.
HOW MUCH SPACE DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR GARDEN?
Never cram your plants into too small of a garden space. Plants need space to reach out, air circulation to promote vigorous growth, and sunlight to ripen the harvest. If you have started way too many tomato plants you might have to decide which ones look the healthiest, and try to give the rest away.
Companion Planting is very dependent on proper spacing. Never plant things too closely together. In a good year, you may find your plants will outgrow the space you have allowed them. If they are crowded, they will compete with each other for water and nutrients, which can spell defeat for all your garden dreams. Plus, you must allow enough room for you to easily walk.
Make a “grid” pattern on paper of where to put each crop you plant in your garden. Each square of the grid is one square foot. Put dates on the diagram. This will help you later to gauge the success or failure of your plan after the harvest season is over.
Have your garden area prepared the year before so the soil and amendments can “cure” during the Fall and Winter. Then you will have a “blank space” to create the garden of your dreams the next Spring. This is way more fun than watching television.
NUMBER OF DAYS TO MATURITY OF THE FRUIT
Next, notice the number of days that it takes to maturity. The length of the growing season in your area is important. If you live very far north, you might want to choose a variety that matures early so you don’t have just a brief harvest season.
These dates are important since you need to calculate when to start the seeds, as well as when to be home to deal with your tomato bounty. You must find the last frost date in the Spring for your area. Figure how many days to maturity for your plants. Then count backward from the last frost date to allow for germination time of the seeds and the amount of time required for each plant to grow big enough to plant outdoors.
HYBRID VS. HEIRLOOM SEEDS
If you plan on saving your own garden seeds from year to year, you will need Heirloom seeds. They will come back true-to-type, and will not revert to an unknown variety. Saving your own garden seeds saves you money, and is a big part of being self-sufficient.
Hybrid seeds never come back as the same variety when planted the next year. In other words, you sacrifice flavor if you try saving your own seeds from a Hybrid Tomato.
Mouthwatering Heirloom Tomatoes command high prices in fancy restaurants. Growing Heirloom Tomatoes means you can indulge in their incredible taste every day without worrying about the cost. Some Heirloom Tomato varieties are so sweet they are even used to make wine.
Use restraint. Avid gardeners can get carried away with abundant choices while browsing the seed catalogs in the dead of winter.
TYPES OF HEIRLOOM TOMATOES
Your next step is to evaluate each variety carefully to make sure it suits your needs. When deciding on the tomato variety you want, first consider taste. Often, the Heirloom Tomato varieties have more flavor than the Hybrids. “Brandywine” (my personal favorite) and “Caspian Pink” are two major Taste Test Winners.
- BRANDYWINE (The Original Brandywine) is a long-time taste test winner! It is deep pink with red flesh and an amazing spicy flavor. It is a Beefsteak Tomato that can weigh 1 to 1 ½ pounds. The “potato leaves” are unusual. Brandywine is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 80 to 90 days to mature.
- CASPIAN PINK has a sweet and juicy flavor. It is one of the few tomatoes that has sometimes beat out Brandywine in taste test competitions. The pink fruits grow to 12 to 16 ounces. It does not produce as heavily as Brandywine. Caspian Pink is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 75 to 80 days to mature.
LOW ACID HEIRLOOM TOMATOES
If you are really sensitive to the high acid contained in many varieties, choose a tomato that is naturally low in acid. “German Johnson Pink” and “Mr. Stripey” are great choices.
- GERMAN JOHNSON PINK is a pink tomato with yellow shoulders. Like Brandywine, it has “potato leaves.” It is a very meaty, mild tasting tomato that is low in acid content. German Johnson Pink is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 80 days to mature.
- STRIPEY produces orange-yellow tomatoes that are mottled with red inside and out. This very meaty tomato weighs 9 ounces and up to 2 pounds. It is mild flavored with very low acid content. Mr. Stripey is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 80 days to mature.
GIANT HEIRLOOM TOMATOES
If you especially like to grow super-sized tomatoes that will make your neighbors ogle, we’ve got you covered. “Giant Belgium,” “Giant Oxheart,” and “Mortgage Lifter” are big favorites.
- GIANT BELGIUM bears dark pink tomatoes that average 1 ½ to 3 pounds. Some weigh up to 5 pounds. They have a mild flavor that is great for sauces, canning, and fresh eating. These very meaty tomatoes are so sweet that some people use them to make wine. Giant Belgium is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 82 to 90 days to mature.
- GIANT OXHEART (Sometimes just called OXHEART) produces rosy pink heart-shaped tomatoes with a mild flavor. They are firm and meaty, with thick flesh and few seeds. Some weigh up to 2 pounds. Giant Oxheart is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 80 to 95 days to mature.
- MORTGAGE LIFTER (Sometimes called RADIATOR CHARLIE) is a pink skinned, meaty tomato with few seeds. It has a wonderful sweet, mild flavor. They weigh from 1 to 2 pounds or even up to 4 pounds. Mortgage Lifter is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 75 to 85 days to mature.
SAUCE OR PASTE HEIRLOOM TOMATOES
If you want to make tomato sauce or paste, you might prefer Paste Tomatoes. They are meatier than other types of tomatoes that are often too watery. Paste Tomatoes also have fewer seeds. Good varieties are “Amish Paste,” “Opalka,” and “San Marzano.”
- AMISH PASTE is a meaty red tomato with few seeds. It weighs up to 8 ounces or more. It is one of the best tasting paste and sauce tomatoes, but also tastes great when eaten fresh. Amish Paste is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 74 to 85 days to mature.
- OPALKA produces red 3 to 5 inch elongated fruits that are nearly seedless. It is one of the best tasting sauce tomatoes, but is sweet enough that you can also enjoy them fresh. Opalka is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 85 days to mature. It is very high yielding.
- SAN MARZANO produces oval 3 ½ inch tomatoes that are bright red. The thick flesh is juicy with few seeds. It is ideal for sauces, paste, and canning, and is great for salsa and fresh eating. It is a big favorite in Italian cooking. San Marzano is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 80 days to mature.
UNIQUE COLORED HEIRLOOM TOMATOES
Other Heirloom Tomato varieties expand on the unique color categories. An arrangement of different colored Heirloom Tomatoes on a serving plate is enough to make your mouth water.
“Aunt Ruby’s German Green,” “Hillbilly,” “Old German,” and “Pineapple” Tomato varieties are very beautiful.
- AUNT RUBY’S GERMAN GREEN Tomato ripens to a light green with a hint of yellow and a pink blush underneath. This large Beefsteak Tomato weighs 12 to 16 ounces and possesses a wonderful sweet, spicy flavor. Aunt Ruby’s German Green is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 80 to 95 days to mature.
- HILLBILLY Tomato ripens to an unusual orange-yellow that is streaked and mottled with red and pink. It is a mild-flavored Beefsteak type tomato that weighs 1 to 2 pounds. Hillbilly is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 85 days to mature.
- OLD GERMAN Tomato is golden yellow with red to pink stripes all the way to the center. It grows to a large 1 ½ to 2 pound tomato with an unusual boat shape. Old German is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 75 days to mature.
- PINEAPPLE Tomato ripens to an orange yellow skin with red streaks. It has yellow flesh with deep pink streaks. This Beefsteak Tomato weighs up to 2 pounds each, and is mild flavored with few seeds. Pineapple is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 85 to 90 days to mature.
NOTE: When I make Fried Green Tomatoes, I always mix chili powder, garlic powder, and onion powder into the coating. You can coat your tomatoes with flour, white or yellow cornmeal, or even crackers crushed to a fine powder. Fried Green Tomatoes made with fully ripened “Aunt Ruby’s German Green” Heirloom Tomatoes is an experiment I plan to try sometime.
BLACK OR PURPLE HEIRLOOM TOMATOES
A few tomatoes are a very dark color that almost defies description. Their intense flavor is a bonus. “Black Krim” and “Cherokee Purple” Tomatoes have been grown for generations.
- BLACK KRIM Tomato has dark red-purple fruits with green shoulders and green-tinted flesh. They are very juicy and have a wonderful flavor with a slight saltiness. They are large 8 to 12 ounce tomatoes. Black Krim is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 69 to 90 days to mature.
- CHEROKEE PURPLE Tomatoes ripen to a pinkish purple that appears somewhat brown. They have a wonderful flavor, and average 8 to 12 ounces. Cherokee Purple is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 80 to 90 days to mature.
OTHER OLD FAVORITE HEIRLOOM TOMATOES
Other old favorite Heirloom Tomatoes that have stood the test of time are “Box Car Willie,” “Paul Robeson,” and the dainty little “Yellow Pear” Tomato.
- BOX CAR WILLIE produces deep red 12 to 18 ounce tomatoes. They have a delicious sweet and tart flavor. Box Car Willie is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 80 days to mature.
- PAUL ROBESON bears large 8 to 12 ounce tomatoes that are brick red with green shoulders. They have a wonderful earthy flavor with a good balance between acid and sugar. Paul Robeson is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 80 to 90 days to mature.
- YELLOW PEAR produces 1 ¾ to 2 inch yellow tomatoes that are pear shaped. The flavor is very sweet and mild. They are wonderful in salads, for fresh eating, preserving, or even for making pickles. Yellow Pear is an Indeterminate Tomato that takes 78 days to mature.
In my next article, we will continue our step-by-step hints for creating the best Garden Plan.
HAPPY PLANTING, Susan!