In most of the US, home gardens have died back from frost. Some gardeners are cleaning up debris, adding compost to beds, making new compost, mulching tender perennials and collecting seeds. Others feel like it’s the end of the season, and they are done until spring.
Not so! Just because there is no food coming from the garden does not mean the season is over! It’s time to plan for next year.
Actually, if you have been following me, you’d know I think of a garden as an ongoing project. It should always be morphing as you experiment with it. If something works, write it down to do again next year. If something does not work, write that down, too, and find something more suitable. Figure out what went wrong, and change it.
Failures and successes happen all year, and if you don’t take note of them, your garden will never be as productive as it can be.
Planning in Fall
So now it’s fall. What sort of planning should you be doing?
Draw a map of your garden (if you don’t already have one), and plan on rotating your crops. Certain plants are prone to disease and insects that live in the soil. To keep planting the same thing in the same soil year after year helps that disease live on and makes unnecessary work and crop loss for you.
If you plant peas where your tomatoes were, tomato diseases will not attack the peas. Squash bugs overwinter in the soil, so if you had an infestation on your zucchini this year, plant carrots there next year. Crop rotation is an important part of organic gardening, but that’s a post in itself. Now is the time to plan for it, though!
You should have been taking notes all season about the seed you used, whether it was something you saved or bought, how well it germinated and how hardy the plants from it were. As your plants went in the ground (whether you grew them or bought them), you should have noted how they did, what fertilizer you used and when, and how you dealt with bugs and diseases you encountered. At harvest time, you should know you harvested, how much you harvested and how it tasted. Note, too, how much food you put up.
As you become armed with this information throughout the growing season, you should be planning for the following year.
For years, I have used old spiral notebooks as annual garden journals. You know how the kids use half of one, then don’t want to use the second half once school is over? I recycle those notebooks for my garden. I’ve also been known to pick up a free calendar retail businesses give out at holiday time. If the spaces for the days are big enough, I can make notes in them.
Last year, my daughter gave me a large calendar that had great writing space on it. That has inadvertently become part of my garden journal this year, along with a spiral notebook. On the calendar, I mostly write down the weather, planting days and how long seed took to germinate, as well as days I fertilized. Since this hangs over my desk, it’s a simple glance to know when things need to be transplanted or fertilized again.
Major planning with maps, seed and plant information, and fertilizer and compost details are in a notebook. If you’re not a paper-and-pencil kinda person, like I am, Excel spreadsheets and garden planning software are invaluable.
My favorite part of the holiday season is when the seed catalogs start coming. They are loaded with information about planting times, spacing, environmental needs, and harvest of flowers, vegetables and herbs. If you are a new gardener, use these pages to help plan your garden.
Know what your family will eat and how much. There is no point in planting beets if no one will eat them! Save your garden space for what you will use.
Consider whether you will put food up or not. Factor that into your plans.
Let your kids have a small area of the garden, too, so they can learn about where food comes from. This will also keep them from destroying your own garden. Trust me, especially with very small children.
Just because winter is approaching, it’s not time to stop thinking about the garden. Plan, plan, plan, and you will be well-rewarded!