Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Weekly Crop Update 12-10-14
By Mike Roegge, University of Illinois Extension, Adams/Brown/Hancock/Pike/Schuyler
The following article was written by Kari Houle, our Horticulture Educator. In the near future, Kari and I will be alternating weekly article for this paper.
It's that time of year when we'll soon be seeing seed and garden catalogs in our mailboxes. If you're like me, you're also receiving emails with all the pretty pictures of new varieties of vegetables and flowers and of course you say you want them all. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what you want to do for the next gardening season. For me, my eyes are usually bigger then my garden and I always end up with too many plants and not enough space for them all and then I run around trying to find other places in the yard to put the extra plants. For 2015 I am making it a goal to plan better for my vegetable garden – last year I planted 11 tomato plants and that was probably just a few too many.
For beginning home gardeners and even those of us that have been doing this for years, the selection and the planning can almost seem a bit overwhelming. The first step for anyone is to figure out what you will actually use and eat. It's great to plant a vegetable, but it does no good if you aren't going to use it and it ends up in the compost pile or rotting on the vine. I've had that happen myself even this year and so 2015 is the year that I plan to prevent that from happening.
When trying to figure out what you want, you also need to consider how much you'll need. With my previous example of 11 tomato plants – did I really need that many? No, especially since two were cherry tomatoes and one plant will produce more than enough for me so next year I'll only have one Sungold Cherry Tomato in the garden, something that I should have remembered from previous years - but it's all about learning. Part of planning is learning from previous years and if you're new to having a vegetable garden consider talking to other gardeners for advice and visiting one of the University of Illinois Extension websites on vegetable gardening, both can be a great place to start. I recommend keeping records or a garden journal as a way to help with future planning. Writing down what you do or don't like, you tried a neighbor's variety and really enjoyed it, you write it down, you had disease issues or insect issues – write it down. Having some kind of written record just makes planning easier when you have something to reference.
Another part of the planning process is knowing how much space you have to garden with. When planning, account for recommended spacing between plants as well as space for accessing plants. It's easy to read on the seed packets or plant labels how much space they need between plants, but if you have a large enough garden you need to make sure you have room to maneuver in the garden. The first year I had a large vegetable garden that was a major factor I forgot about and when you're trying to water or harvest, it makes it a lot more difficult and I had my fair share of broken branches from trying to work with not enough to maneuver.
You have your space, you know what you want to plant, but the next hard step is filtering through all of the catalogs and figuring out exactly what to get. 2014 was the first year for me where I grew all my plants in the garden from seed which was very exciting. If you have the ability to start warm season crops indoors it does open up a lot more possibilities for selection and you may find varieties that are not readily available in already started plants. When selecting varieties, make sure to read through the description – do they have disease resistance if the vegetable is particularly susceptible to diseases, does it mention how much will be produced, what are the size of the fruits, how much space do they take up, lots of questions but it's figuring out what fits for you and your garden space. It's easy to want to go overboard – you want to grow squash, you want to grow 10 different varieties because they are all a bit different, but it's learning to decide what you really need or want. If there are multiple varieties that you want to try and maybe you don't have the space, make a wish list for the future – and then evaluate what you actual planted and maybe something didn't work out or you didn't like it and the following year you can add something from your wish list to your garden.
I highly recommend making a basic sketch or using graph paper to plan out your garden, especially for new and aspiring vegetable gardeners or people like me who have eyes bigger than her garden. It will give you a better idea of spacing between plants and the space you need to work in the garden. Once you have your plan finalized make sure to keep it as a reference for future years especially when planning for crop rotation in the future. For those of you who are new to vegetable gardening, crop rotation is making sure that the same crop or family of vegetables is not planted in the same place year after year to try and help minimize disease and insect problems.
Though it may seem like a to consider - take time to plan and read through your options before jumping in feet first no matter how enticing all the pictures and new varieties may be. For more information about growing vegetables make sure to visit the University of Illinois Extension website Watch Your Garden Grow http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/ or you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-223-8380.