Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.
There are time honored traditions in the gardening world, habits you find yourself falling into the longer you garden. Some, like planting peas on St. Patrick’s day or getting your corn knee-high by the fourth of July, are shared bits of wisdom passed down from generation to generation.
There’s a rhythm to the seasons, activities that punctuate our year in preparation for the next phase of gardening. But big company marketing and business plans based on bottom line are wiping out one way of life that this gardener, at least, misses.
I’m speaking of seed catalogs that once arrived like the first heralds of spring in our mailboxes in January. While others might suffer the post-holiday blues, gardeners can’t wait to get their hands on these pages of plant promises.
Pouring over brightly colored photos and tantalizing descriptions as snow falls outside gets us dreaming of spring. But this year, the rhythm was broken by the catalogs arriving in late fall, right around Thanksgiving.
I admit, I was outraged by this; I don’t want my seed catalogs cozied up against ads for wool-lined moccasins and Snuggies. Robbing us of that January surprise is the gardening equivalent of the Grinch that Stole Christmas, so I bundled up the bunch and set it aside for the proper time for perusal.
Which is now. Getting a jump start on your garden plan is a smart move this year, since seed sales are expected to be brisk. Last year, millions of U. S. households tried food gardening for the first time, and if you started your shopping late, you might have found your favorite seeds were gone.
There’s wisdom in shopping early, but unless you want to end up with more plants than places to put them, take a cozy morning and draw up your garden plan. Begin with measurements of the square footage you can devote to your garden, then sketch out the garden on graph paper. I use one square per square foot, drawing in paths, raised beds and trellising.
Next, make a list of vegetables, herbs or fruit you’d like to plant. Look up the space each one needs to grow, and note that next to the item on the list. Draw the plants into your garden sketch, planning for them to have enough room to grow to mature size. Place taller plants to the north of the garden so they don’t shade the shorter ones.
As your map fills in, you’ll be able to tell if you’ve plenty of room for everything on your list or if you need to scale back your expectations. In my case, I won’t grow potatoes this year; they take up a lot of room and my interests are leaning toward more peppers. You might decide that planting fewer of everything is best.
Once you know what plants fit in your garden, you’re ready to shop. The choice of seeds versus seedlings is a personal one; it depends on whether you have the room to care for seedlings as they grow for eight weeks. Purchasing plants ready to pop in the ground is an easy way to jump into the garden.
But if you want a kitchen garden your foodie friends will envy, start your own seeds. Hundreds of varieties fill stands at local garden centers and catalogs are a good way to educate yourself on the cornucopia food you can grow.
Bold gardeners will plant at least one new variety each year, but new plantings can be risky, what with the sheer variety of new or untried plants. You can easily get lost in the belief that a gardener can do no wrong, because those catalog writers gush about every plant they offer. The best advice would be: plant what you like to eat, and toss in a new variety or two as an experiment.
Not all plants do well here, so look to local companies such as Botanical Interests, Abbondanza, Rocky Mountain Seed company, or Lake Valley Seed to steer you to choices that thrive in Colorado. Then get with a buddy to plan your purchases, stretching your dollar while increasing your gourmet choices. Order early, and you won’t be disappointed.