Yes, the long dreary days of winter are quickly passing by and visions of spring flowers are in our heads. It is that important time for planning the spring garden. Every year I seem to feel like I am getting a bit of a late start on my garden plans. Before I know it, it’s the middle of March and I have yet to start my seedlings indoors. So this year I am resolving to be more on top of this process that ultimately brings me so much joy for the summer months. Just stop and think for a moment about juicy red beefsteak tomatoes shining on the vine in the heat of a summer day. Picture a basket filled with your favorite veges, freshly harvested and ready to go into your summer dishes. Think about a beautiful flower garden that attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. I hope your imagination is now running wild! Step one is going through seed catalogues to decide what seeds to plant. Last year I told you about Annies and another one called Seeds. This year I have also ordered from Heirloom Organics out of Oregon. Try to stick with seed companies that offer heirloom seeds that have thrived and survived pests and diseases for many, many years. They are hardy and nutritious and you won’t have to worry about GMO hybrid seeds. Organic is always best but there are high quality seeds that do not have the organic certification, much the same as many types of wine which are made with sustainable farming practices but lacking the label. As many of you know who have gone through the process, obtaining organic farming certification is a long and painstaking process that may be more suitable for large operations than small.
Most seed catalogues now have “collections” of seeds to fulfill a particular purpose. Purchasing a collection will give you a variety but take the guess work out of it, if you are not sure what to buy. Examples would be a herb collection or a salad collection. This year I am planting Annies’s butterfly collection, a variety of flowers to attract butterflies and am hoping to attract hummingbirds as well. I feed my favorite feathered friends each summer and at 8:00pm on a summer’s evening, there are dozens and dozens around the four feeders that are hanging on the front patio. They may be tiny birds but they have a beastly appetite and at the peak of the season, I am refilling the feeders every day.
Once you have decided what vegetables, flowers and herbs to buy, it is time to do your “companion planning.” Garden and Flowers.com define companion planting as “the process of seeding amicable species along with one another to promote growth.” There are many charts and information on the internet about this subject, but as a rule of thumb, it is typical to plant your lettuce and lettuce type plants together which would include kale, collards, swiss chard, raddichio and radishes. Another bed would house your cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. Tomatoes are in the nightshade family along with eggplants and all types of peppers. Certain herbs/flowers go very well with certain vegetables. Tomatoes love parsley, marigolds and especially borage which helps to detract the hornworms. Cauliflower and cabbage love oregano; Brussel sprouts love thyme, broccoli loves dill and rosemary and beets love sage. Flowers like nasturtiums are edible and provide lovely color for a vegetable garden and they are especially compatible with squash. Make a drawing of your bed to lay out your plans so when the time comes to plant, you will know where everything goes. Believe me once the weather and especially the soil warms up, you’ll be in a hurry to plant those seeds.
Always read the directions on your seed packs because some seeds have such a long propagation time that they are best started indoors. One of the downsides to this approach is that you need a fair amount of space and light for your seedlings. Another idea is to start them outdoors in a cold frame which ultimately is easier as they are planted where they will stay. I like small cold frames that you can lift off when the time comes to avoid an unnecessary transplant of the fragile seedlings. If you want to start tomatoes by seed, start early because a late planting may lead to disappointment in terms of the yield, unless you live in a location where the fall weather stays warm well into October.
Every year is a learning experience for me and no two seasons have ever been the same in terms of weather patterns, insects, irrigation scheduling or even yield. The important thing is to have fun with it and you will when you take your first delicious bite of something you have grown yourself. There is simply no comparison!