During this past three-day weekend, when I experienced my first “squall” and several inches of snow, I was able to make a dent in my master plan for the 2015 gardening season. We live in a typical Northern Virginia suburban area; we have been in this 50-year old house for 12 years. In the beginning I grew a lot of ornamentals and herbs. Recently, I have been growing more edibles and as the kids grow up and out of the backyard, I am able to carve out more lawn to create new beds for my veggies. This results in a patchwork of small beds and containers, not the traditional long rows of vegetables found in a farm. Thus, my garden plan is complex because I am fitting edibles into a small, but established garden.
The master plan is more like a road map, it gets me started in the spring to where I want to go this year. As the summer heats up, I tend to make detours, slight modifications: buy a plant here, move a plant there. By autumn, I feel like I have traveled an exciting and rewarding journey — I learned a lot, I grew and harvested a lot –and now it is time to create road map II for the fall/winter seasons.
So in February I create a list, in alphabetical order, of the seeds I have and then I put the seed packets in paper bags, each labeled with a letter of the alphabet. Then I create a chart of when to start the seeds, whether indoors under lights or outdoors, depending on if they are cool or warm season and how long it takes from seed to fruit. I list where I would eventually grow the plants outdoors depending on sunlight, soil moisture, insects/pests/disease, etc. I also allow for succession planting. For example, I want to sow lettuce, spinach, and scallions several times because as we eat them, I want more to be growing. Also, in one area I want to grow peppers when it is warm after the initial sowing of lettuce has bolted.
Right now March looks like this: sowing seeds of eggplant, bulbing fennel, leaf fennel, lovage, and sweet peppers under lights in mid-March. I don’t much care for cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, Brussell sprouts) so I don’t grow those. I will start snap peas indoors, not under light, but soaking in water overnight, then placing in plastic bags to initiate germination so can be planted outside in cold soil. At the end of March, I will sow seeds of spinach, radish, pak choi, kale, lettuce, and scallions outdoors directly in soil or in containers.
April gets busier: I will sow seeds of cilantro, dill, parsley, alyssum, nigella, and chives outside as our average last frost date is mid-April. I will sow more seeds of kale, lettuce, scallions, and spinach in order to have a continuous harvest. Indoors, under lights, I will start the warm season tomatoes, melon, and cucumbers. Instead of seed, I will buy plants that do not over winter here like lemon verbena, lemon grass, and pineapple sage.
May of course is the beginning of warm weather and anything goes. It will be warm enough to plant seeds of basil, lemon basil, beans, Swiss chard, marigolds, yellow summer squash, zucchini, and trombetta squash directly outdoors. I will continue to sow the seeds of cool season greens such as kale, lettuce, spinach, scallions again until it gets too hot in July.
This does not mean that these are the only plants or the only edibles in the garden. I already have other plants such as parsley, alpine strawberries, raspberry, blackberry, thyme, rosemary, oregano, goji berry, shallots, lemon balm, hardneck garlic, and mint.
By May I will have started to deviate off course a bit as I will have attended a few plant sales, visited a few nurseries, and traded with my gardening friends. My plans will have altered with new additions but the journey has begun!