A COUNTRY GARDEN PLANNER (Part 2)
The very best vegetable gardens always start with a plan. This is Part 2 of my step-by-step hints for making up the best Garden Planner. This article should take the trial and error out of designing the best garden possible for you and your family.
TOMATO PLANTS VS. SEEDS?
If it is variety that you’re after, you might consider starting your own tomatoes from seed. Selecting tomato seed from a catalog gives you hundreds of varieties to choose from.
Many people find it easier to just buy their young plants at a greenhouse, although you won’t have as much choice of variety as you would from a catalog.
Starting tomatoes indoors might begin in February or March, depending on where you live. Just don’t start them too early. Sitting on a windowsill for a few months means you will have very tall, thin (I call them “long and leggy”) tomato plants that look downright “scrawny.”
Also, watering young tomato plants every day can become quite a chore if you have several. Once, I had three windowsills completely filled with small, empty yogurt cups that I had filled up with potting soil. I had poked drainage holes in them with an ice pick. The yogurt lids were used as drip pans underneath the cups.
It seemed like such a good idea at the time, but every last one of these tomato plants grew, which was far too many! (What on earth was I thinking?) Be sure to plant your seeds just one to a pot. If you put two tomato seeds in a container, it might be impossible to separate the roots without tearing them.
When filling out your Garden Planner, always keep careful notes of the specialized care that must be given to each type of plant. For tomatoes that would be:
- If you smoke, wash your hands well before working with tomato plants. They are very sensitive to tobacco.
- Keep track of the plants that your tomatoes flourish with when planted together, and those that they must be kept away from. This is known as Companion Planting.
WHAT IS COMPANION PLANTING?
Vegetable Companion Planting is the study of how some plants grow happily together. And others just plain don’t!
Succession Planting is when a certain food crop has finished producing for the year. That same spot of ground is then used to plant something else. If the two plants “don’t like each other,” you will have disappointing results.
Plants have idiosyncrasies. Some don’t grow well together because they:
- Require a different soil pH.
- Produce chemicals that will “put off” certain of their neighbors.
- Don’t like shade produced by taller vegetables.
- Others require shade.
- Don’t appreciate being crowded, and will compete for space, both above the ground and below it.
- Some plants are complete “hogs” for water and nutrients while others need much less of both.
- Certain plants attract insects and diseases that will spell trouble for neighboring plants.
- And, there are always exceptions to every rule.
Just because ingredients blend well in cooking doesn’t mean those same plants can be grown side by side. And sometimes, the opposite is true.
IT’S JUST NOT AN EXACT SCIENCE!
Companion Planting is not an exact science. It has been studied for decades, and there is still no way to be certain about some things except by using the “trial and error” method.
One thing you can be sure of is that there will be differing opinions on just about everything connected to “How To Make A Garden.” For instance, some people claim you can easily grow Tomatoes with Cabbage. Others, myself included, say they are like “two kids fighting in a sandbox,” and need to be separated.
I strongly suspect it is due to the variety of each plant. You could find hundreds of different varieties of tomatoes alone. Some are tougher than others. And some are very fussy.
When working up your Garden Planner for this season, it is good to refer to a Vegetable Companion Planting List to cut down on the possibility of an unsatisfactory crop.
Some relationships are bound to be more difficult than others. Plants that get along well together are listed as “LOVES.” Plants that battle things out for survival are listed as “HATES.” Certain plants that can be grown next to each other do not provide any particular benefit other than the fact they don’t “bother each other.”
Be aware of what I call “contrasts” (for want of a better term.) This is important when you initially plant your garden in the Spring. And this should not be overlooked when your crop is harvested and then replaced with another type of plant. This is known as Succession Planting.
Examples of these “contrasts” are:
- Corn likes to grow with Squash and Beets. But Squash and Beets don’t get along.
- Tomatoes like growing with Onions and Asparagus. Nevertheless, Onions and Asparagus don’t like each other at all.
- The flip side of this is that Turnips love to grow with Bush Beans and Spinach. Plus, Bush Beans and Spinach grow happily together.
Careful planning requires the use of “grid” paper when laying out your garden plan. Taking the time to put together a suitable plan will reward you at harvest time.
Companion Planting depends on careful spacing of your plants. Don’t crowd. Always allow enough room for you to walk between the rows of maturing plants. Having to step into the middle of an enormous zucchini plant is no fun at all. Also, adequate spacing between plants cuts down on the chance of falling down in a less-than-graceful heap.
Flowers, Herbs, and Fruits are often planted in or near the Vegetable Garden, so I have mentioned all four in this Companion Planting List.
- Vegetables are listed in BLACK.
- Fruits are in RED.
- Herbs are in GREEN.
- Flowers are in BLUE.
As an Example, the section on the ever popular Tomato reads:
LOVES: Alyssum (Sweet), Artichoke (Globe), Asparagus, Basil, Beans (Bush), Beans (Pole), Bee Balm (Monarda), Beets, Borage, Calendula, Carrots, Celery, Chamomile, Chives, Cilantro, Comfrey, Cosmos, Cucumber, Dahlia, Daylilies, Eggplant, Garlic, Geranium, Gladiolus, Horseradish, Lavender, Leeks, Lemon Balm, Lettuce, Marigold, Marjoram, Mint (Keep Mint and Parsley away from each other.), Moonflower (This is a trap crop for hornworms.), Nasturtium, Onion, Oregano, Parsley, Parsnip, Peas, Peppers (Hot), Peppers (Sweet), Petunias, Pumpkin, Radishes, Rosemary, Roses, Sage, Shallots, Spinach, Squash (Summer), Squash (Winter), Summer Savory, Sunflowers, Swiss Chard, Thyme, Zinnias
HATES: Apples, Apricots, Arugula, Blackberries, Blueberries, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cherry, Chinese Cabbage, Collard Greens, Corn, Currants, Dill, Elderberries, Fennel, Gooseberries, Grapes, Jerusalem Artichoke, Kale, Kohlrabi, Melons, Mustard Greens, Nectarines, Okra, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Potato, Potato (Sweet), Raspberries, Rhubarb, Rutabaga, Strawberries, Sunflowers, Turnip, Walnut
NOTE: Tomatoes must have plenty of moisture in the season to produce lovely, juicy Tomatoes. If they are deprived, the fruits will be drier, and so disappointing. For that reason, it is best to keep anything from the Cabbage Family away from them. The same goes for any other plant that is a “heavy feeder.”
HOW TO SHOP FOR VEGETABLE SEEDS AND PLANTS
Some garden companies specialize in vegetable garden seeds. The quality of their seeds and the ability for them to germinate (sprout) is exceptional. The same company might also offer trees and plants that turn out to be less-than-stellar. Don’t let this concern you too terribly. Every company seems to specialize in something. Just stick with buying their seeds! Sometimes you just have to order something to find this out.
Make sure the catalogs specify that they only offer non-GMO seeds. If you have a choice of Organic and non-Organic seeds, always go with the Organic ones. Chemical sprays go right into the vegetables, and end up in their seeds. Don’t be influenced by pictures that are often doctored to make them look more delectable.
Go online to see how many complaints these companies have, not only on customer service and resolution of disputes, but also the germination rate of their seeds. A good company will have a good “Satisfaction Guaranteed” policy.
Prioritize! In spite of your level of enthusiasm, you just can’t plant everything. You’d be better off having a few vegetables in pots on your deck or patio for the first year or two rather than overwhelming yourself with work.
Fill out a separate form for each garden catalog, or write it down on a legal pad:
- The name of the catalog
- The name of each seed variety you are interested in (Example: Brandywine Tomato)
- The page number it is found on
- The number of seeds in each packet
- The price per seed packet, and the total price if you are buying more than one
- Compare prices of the same product between companies
- If you intend to order plants, write down the cost for each one. Sometimes they are cheaper if you order 3 at a time.
Some companies charge very high shipping prices if you don’t order much, and those prices go up depending on the total dollar amount of your order. Write down:
- The shipping charges
- Does that company offer free shipping before a certain date if your order is large enough?
- Check each catalog over for “freebies” and special offers. They are usually listed just inside the front cover, on the back cover, or on the catalog’s order blank.
Use restraint! Some plants absolutely must be started in the house. And you will get tired of carrying water to dozens of little pots of seedlings that are lined up along every windowsill in the house. (Ask me how I know this!) Some types of plants are hard to get started anyway, and it might be smarter to just buy them at the greenhouse.
ORDERING GARDEN SEEDS
Ordering Garden Seeds is one of my favorite annual rituals. It’s such a treat to open my mail order delivery of garden seeds. Looking out the window at piles of snow as far as the eye can see, you just seem to need a bit of cheering up. And each season, I try to pare down the amount of work I need to do, while still reaping as much reward as possible.
There are a few rules to follow that make life a whole lot easier:
- Try not to be overwhelmed (and overly influenced) by all the pretty pictures in garden catalogs.
- Cutting down on time and effort should be considered now, or you’ll create more work than necessary.
- Locating one or two varieties of Tomatoes rather than planting several kinds is more cost effective. They can be spaced far enough apart so you don’t have to worry about them cross-pollinating and developing a strange tasting variety.
When doing comparisons between two tomato varieties, always seek out those that give you the most bang for your buck. Plants that have dual uses are always the most valuable, such as those that are equally good for fresh eating, juice, and sauce.
Following my tried-and-true step-by-step hints will make it easier for you to plan the best garden ever!
HAPPY PLANTING, Susan!