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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Get the Most Out of Your Garden Space

This simple process of journaling your garden each year can seriously improve your overall success as a green thumb. Keeping track helps you decide where and what to plant, and to make sure you have enough of what you need, without wasting space or growing too much of anything in particular.

It starts with a seed organizing system. This is where you will put all of your seed packets, or lists of starter plants to buy, organized by planting dates. After you've planted your seeds, you'll put the empty packet back into the folder or section, appropriately labeled by the date the seeds were planted. Clearly label the sections with "PLANTED ON:____." By keeping track of the date each species was planted, you'll know for the next year if you need to make any adjustments. By keeping the packets, rather than just writing a list, you'll know exactly which varieties of which plants you used, where they came from, and whether or not to purchase again.

If you're using starter plants, you can use the tag from the nursery instead of a seed packet, or simply write them down on scraps of paper and place them in the binder sleeves. Make sure to take note of the seed brand/distributor, and the exact variety. If you can't be bothered to mess with an organizing system, simply write the "PLANTED ON" date with sharpie on the seed packet and keep them all in a safe place for later use.

These are seeds I've already planted this year. Most are empty packets, some have seed I'll use again in '19
Note: If you like a more tidy/compact system, a recipe box also works very well for this. I am a visual person who likes everything laid out in front of me so I can see the big picture. I need things to be organized. But if this is not necessary for you, try a recipe box, or even a shoe box! As long as you're keeping the right notes!

These are seeds I have not yet put in the ground. These need a tad bit warmer weather. Once planted, I will place the empties back, and change the label to "PLANTED ON ___" with the date planted. 

This step is perhaps the most important if you are new to gardening, or planting in an area that you've never worked in before. Over time, you get used to your space and the plants you grow, and designs will become more intuitive. You may not even need to draw a map after a while, especially if you have a lot of room or are simply planting rows. But if you're just starting out in a new place, or working with tight quarters, be sure you do not skip this step!

Once you have your basic list of the things you want to grow, you'll create a plan, or map, to make sure you can fit everything into the allotted area. This map can be as intricate or as simple as what works for you. Where I live right now, my designes are pretty detailed, because I have parts of the garden which do not get full sun. I also want to fit a large variety of crops into a small space, so I need to be meticulous about square footage, while leaving sensible room for footpaths, watering, and harvesting.

In my garden there are areas where the soil has a lot of rocks, so I need to make sure not to plant root veggies or onions there. Take care to consider sunlight, shade, soil conditions, and ease of access while planning. If there are areas that are difficult to water or harvest, put drought tolerant flowers or herbs in those areas. Plan ahead for any neglect that may occur.

Another important factor to consider while planning your garden is spacing for the different plants, some need a lot of room, and others don't mind being a little crowded. Make sure to leave plenty of space for the ones that need it.

You may plant everything exactly the way you design it, and you may make some changes along the way. Regardless of how you use the map in the long run, it's the perfect starting point to be sure you have enough space for everything you are hoping to grow.

As the growing season progresses, take photographs of your seedlings as they emerge, and take more photos of your plants once they are producing fruit. This will help you with your journal entry when the time comes.

At the very end of the growing season, you'll enter all of your notes and findings into a journal. This is the most fun step for me. It visually outlines every aspect of your garden, putting it into a plain-to-see format, which will really help you decide what seeds to buy for next year, which plants need to be tried in a different spot, which ones were perhaps a little more than you needed, and even which ones weren't worth your time.

You'll know what dates you planted certain seeds because you'll have all of that information in your seed organizer. You can enter this info, or just keep it in your binder for the following year. You'll use your photographs to know how many of your seeds geminated, and ultimately, how many did well and produced fruit. Make notes on which varieties were your favorites, which ones didn't do so well, what you'd like more of next year, and which ones (if any) you'd rather just not plant. There may be certain veggies that don't do well in your climate, or perhaps your family doesn't enjoy eating them.

You can journal your garden findings in fall, after the summer growing season has ended,  or early spring of the following year. The benefit of doing it in fall is that your memory is fresh and you can have more accurate notes. The benefit of waiting until February/March is that you can note which plants survived the winter where you live. This year (2018)  I will probably journal in fall, but leave space on certain plants to make notes in spring regarding whether or not they survived the snow.

After making all these notes, you'll be sure to think of some things you wished you had planted. Make a list so that next year when you're buying seeds and starter plants, you'll make space in your plans to add these in. 

This wish list will be essential to helping you plan out your seed binder and garden map for the following year.

Once you've completed all four steps, you'll be impatiently waiting for the next growing season, to start back at Step One and do it all over again! 


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