Every experienced gardener will tell you this simple truth - winter is for planning. It's the time when you get sick of the rain and grey (okay "sick of grey" if you live in the Northwest like I do) and you need something to pull you through to the spring.
This is when I get out my big 4" spiral bound notebook and start planning!
there are so many options for planning a garden. I'm a busy busy mom who really doesn't have much free time to be drafting layouts on the computer or inputting information to excel. No, I use the very old-fashioned method of getting a white piece of paper, a nice dark Sharpie marker, all my past research and sit at the kitchen table overlooking my backyard victory garden. I draw out a simple sketch of my backyard planters - not to scale - just so I am able to differentiate each box. Since I like to successively plant, I do a 'spring' layout and 'summer' layout on one piece of paper.
An important part of organic gardening is practicing a method called 'crop rotation'. Google this term for more extensive information, but in very basic simple terms it means that you change the location of certain crops every year so diseases and pests stay one step behind you.
When i plan out my current year's garden, I take into account not only last year's layout, but the previous year's layout as well. In fact, for extra credit, I will even go as far back as three years.
I group my plantings into these categories: Tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers, cucumbers, zukes, and eggplant. I have 8 planting spaces so that means I am able to rotate all of these crops effectively from one box to the next with 1 box leftover for herbs, tomatillos, and lettuces.
Every good gardener knows that there is always something new to learn. This year (after many many years of food gardening) I finally learned the plants that actually put nutrients back into the soil - like beans and peas. So as I'm planning out my rotations I make sure to put a bean crop in a box that has previously grown very heavy feeders like cucumbers and tomatoes. And when my spring pea crop dies off in the heat of the summer, I chop up the leaves and bury them in boxes that house heavy feeder plants.
Inside my spiral notebook, I have pages from magazines that have vegetable design layouts I want to try or new growing techniques that look very attractive. I put the pages into plastic sleeves and refer back to them when I'm in the planning process.
After I have the new year's layout pretty much drawn out, I get out the old seed catalog and pick a few (okay 4-5) new varieties of my vegetable standards that I would like to try. This year I'm going to try a new variety of paste tomato called Cuore Di Bue Tomato and a small cucumber that will be fun for my kids to eat off the vine called Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumbers (they look like mini watermelons!). Here in the NW, Territorial seeds is the gold standard of unique, tried-and-tested varieties, and serious gardener eye candy. However, the one thing that sets this company out is the amazing and extensive information they give on every plant and seed they sell. In fact, at the beginning of every category they will give all the basic growing conditions and tips for that plant. It has become my bathtub reading!
For other seeds and plants that aren't as special and dont' need to be ordered from a catalog, I use seeds from my previous year's stash, seeds that I collected and saved, and plants from a local nursery.
Are you excited? I am!