Grit Blogs > A Long Time Coming

Garden Planning: Taking Stock

Giant Daikon Radish

A photo of Shannon SaiaWhat on earth is this?

If your answer is a giant Daikon radish you’re only partly right. The answer that I’m looking for is: “It’s evidence.”

Of what, you ask?

It’s evidence that I planted a crop this fall that I a) don’t really like, and b) don’t really know what to do with. Which is why I never harvested it, but let it keep growing, and growing ... after awhile it kind of became a game. How big would it actually get? It got even bigger than it looks. I broke off about eight inches of it trying to pull it up out of the ground.

Enough already.

I’m at the end of my second full year of gardening – I’ve done two spring/summers and two falls – and I think that I’ve moved beyond planting a particular kind of seed just because I know that it’s going to come up. It’s time to get serious. Getting serious means making plans. Making plans means making lists.

We’ve been giving this a lot of thought. We’ve had a lot of conversations about it. What exactly is it that we’re trying to do around here? What do we hope to accomplish? What’s the best way to build upon our 2008 and 2009 successes? Lately we’ve been trying to move beyond our usual broad, sweeping, philosophical statements and write down some discrete, concrete and measurable goals. We’ve argued the virtues of this crop over that one. We’ve observed what we eat a lot of, what we only eat occasionally, and what we don’t eat that much of because for the most part only one of us is eating it. After my recent rye revelation I’ve been reconsidering my position on growing grains. My husband would like to devote some land to growing crops dedicated to experimenting with biofuel. We’ve debated whether or not and how to save seeds. We’ve tried to over-winter plants indoors with varying degrees of success. We’ve dabbled a little bit in an awful lot of things.

Obviously, we need to get organized.

So here it is, our 2010 goals, broken down into the following categories:

1. Our staples – what we want to grow a lot of

2. The mid-list – what we want to grow in moderate amounts

3. The low list – what we want to grow in small amounts

4. What we would like to grow, do or make if we can

5. What we will not try to grow, do or make

Our Staples

1. Potatoes. I had great success with banana fingerlings and Beauregard sweet potatoes this year. In 2010 I want to up the ante a little bit. We’re planning on banana fingerlings (12 plants, same as this past year, to give us new potatoes in early summer); a variety of potato that will supply us in the summer (12 plants); a variety of potatoes suited particularly for storage to keep us in potatoes through the winter (at least 12 plants, possibly more); Beauregard sweet potatoes (24 plants, same as this past year).

2. Tomatoes. I was very happy this year with our variety of heirloom tomato plants. I would like to grow 6 heirloom plants again. But this year I want to grow a lot of red tomatoes too; at least 6 Roma plants and 6 of something else, Beefsteak maybe, since I have seeds. I want to produce enough tomatoes to keep us in sauce, stewed tomatoes, salsa, ketchup, BBQ sauce and enchilada sauce ideally through the following summer. I’ll set some definite canning goals at a later time.

3. Onions. I’m thinking of planting a variety that is particularly suited to storage, and shooting for producing at least 52 onions, one for every week of the year. I don’t know if they’ll keep that long, but we’ll see.

4. Garlic. Same deal on the garlic. I did plant garlic this fall, but I already know it’s nowhere near enough. Next year I want to plant more with plans to dry and store it for use through the year.

5. Peppers. Boy, did we enjoy our peppers this year! We really miss them now. I didn’t really preserve any of them, but I plan to do that next year. We’re shooting for 3 jalapeño plants, 2 Serrano plants, 1 habanero plant, 2 bell plants, 2 Anaheim plants and 2 Carmen plants. And in 2010 I won’t dig them up prematurely in a useless attempt to move them indoors. Seriously. I swear. I lost months of productive time eating wonderful peppers because of that little trick.

6. Carrots. This year I’m going to do succession planting of carrots in the spring and fall, and hope to have plenty for fall storage. I’m still working out the details of how to store fall vegetables…

7. Beans. I want to grow the regular green beans, and maybe some exotic 8-foot long bean, and I’ll throw the peas into this category too. But what I’m really talking about here is beans that can be dried for storage for use during the year. I’m shooting for a total of 12 quarts of dried beans; red, black and white.

8. Broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. These are the main vegetables that my husband will eat. I have had great success two falls in a row with broccoli, but I still don’t have it down. I have never successfully produced a head of cauliflower. The verdict is still out on my first year with the brussels sprouts, but at least one plant out there seems to be trying to make little heads. I’d like to grow all of these in spring and fall in 2010. The past two years I’ve only grown them in fall. I’m aiming for 6 plants of each, each season.

9. Fruit. I’ve had success two summers in a row with melons. I would like to grow a little more variety in melons. This year I also want to get some berry bushes installed. We still haven’t purchased any apple trees for installation this fall ... Our fig tree is still hanging out dormant, but hopefully this coming year we’ll be able to harvest a few figs too. My fruit goal is vague. Whatever I can get to grow and harvest this year works for me. I will also make a greater effort to get to farmer’s markets and buy what I can to preserve to make up for what I’m not producing.

10. Last but not least, the eggs, of course! I have made a deal with a local lady to tack onto her upcoming chick order this spring in March/April. When the chicks arrive I am going to let her keep and brood them for me along with hers, until they’re about 18 weeks old, point of lay. I will then pick them up, pay her what it cost to feed them, and bring them back here to thier new coop. I am excited about this arrangement, because, 1) It’s a good time frame. It gives me until about June or so to get the coop ready, and since we’re under construction around here, and trying to focus on one thing at a time, summer chickens will work out about right; and 2) I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew the first time out, and I was a little concerned about having to raise the chicks. But they will be raised around lots of people, and socialized with people and other chickens, and I'll get to visit them while they're growing up, get to know them, etc. They’re going to be Golden Comets, from Mt. Healthy Hatchery – a “quiet bird” that lays brown eggs. Perfect!

The Mid-List

There are a number of vegetables that we like and eat, but which I wouldn’t call a “staple.” If I dedicate a modest amount of space for these things and do some succession planting, we should have more than enough of all of them. The mid-list veggies are: lettuce, turnips, rutabaga (by the way, bugs LOVE rutabaga. If you don’t get them out of the ground soon enough, the bugs will hollow them out and leave you with a rutabaga shell!), kohlrabi, beets, celery, asparagus, cucumbers, eggplant, spinach, zucchini, cabbage, leeks.

This list represents some real challenges. I’ve never grown celery or leeks but I understand they can be difficult. Asparagus is expensive, and I believe it requires some time to establish a bed before harvesting. I have yet to eat an eggplant off a plant I have grown, and not only because my daughter developed a fondness for plucking off the babies ... I did get spinach to come up from seed this year, but it’s not very prolific. Every summer I have lost my zucchini to vine borers. I also have a huge bug problem with the cabbage. I hope to do some research about how to prevent this for the upcoming year this winter. I think I’m going to have to cover them.

The Low-List

Basically, these are the vegetables that only I eat, or only my husband eats. Also, for the time being, I have put the herbs and other condiment-type things here. The low list consists of kale, collards, chard, radishes, yellow squash, winter squash, corn, peas, ginger, horseradish and herbs.

What We Would Like to Grow, Do or Make

There are a number of things that we would like to do around here, but for the time being we’re not setting any goals to do them in 2010. If we do get them done, that’s great. If we don’t … well, we’ve got enough to do. They are below in no particular order.

1. Keep a sheep for milk and cheese (I think they’re nicer and easier to handle than goats). I also suspect we don't have the proper space or zoning on this piece of property for this, so I doubt it'll happen any time in the immediate future.

2. Build a smokehouse. I'm pretty sure I have a neighbor with a smokehouse.

3. Make cheese and butter. Or at the very least find someone locally around here that makes cheese and butter and get it from them.

4. Make cleaning products.

5. Develop my own recipes for crackers, cereal bars, and croutons (these are practically the only processed foods I still buy).

6. Preserve whatever is in season that I can get my hands on as it becomes available, time permitting.

What We Will Not Try to Grow, Do or Make

We’re energetic and ambitious, but we have to draw the line somewhere. So here it is. We will not be getting involved in any of the following:

1. Growing grains, except for possibly small amounts of specialty things like quinoa, etc.

2. Pasta. I can and occasionally do make pasta from scratch, but I will continue to keep a variety of dried store-bought pastas on hand.

3. Honey. I have no intention of getting into bee-keeping.

4. Yeast. Where does yeast come from? Who knows? I will totally just buy it and not worry about it.

5. Rice. With all the rain we've had around here of late I suspect that I could grow rice outside right now, but I’m not going to try. I buy rice in bulk and keep it in 5-gallon buckets.

6. Popcorn. I’m not thrilled about growing any corn at all. I’m not going to knock myself out over this.

7. Dog food. I have 4 dogs. It is expensive to buy them quality dog food anyway, but more expensive and time consuming to make it myself (though I do make my own dog treats). I will continue to buy dry dog food.

8. Raising animals for meat. I don’t think we have the property for this, and it’s not something I am anxious to get into, especially as I can get good quality naturally-raised meats from a local farm. My Thanksgiving turkey was truly the best I've ever had, and sometime this month I'll be filling up my freezer with hog …

So. There you have it. To sum it all up – in 2010 we’d like to pretty much grow all our own produce.

Obviously, this is going to take some planning, and a heck of a lot of work. I believe we have the space for it. I have drawings from this year detailing where everything was planted in spring and summer so that we can make sure that we’re rotating things properly. Deciding where everything will go, and when it will go in, will be my big winter project. That and reading to try and learn as much as I can during the down time.

But for now, I think I’m going back to bed. Just writing all of this down has exhausted me.