Wednesday, March 9, 2016

2016 Garden Plan


One of my favourite garden tasks is completed in the middle of winter, while the garden is fast asleep - Planning.

Each year, the garden provides us with a fresh start and seemingly limitless potential – pests, diseases, and wacky weather are optimistically thought of as “possibilities”, not certainties.  In my plan, the weather is perfect, not too cold/hot/wet/dry/windy, all my sowings are perfectly timed & every seed comes up, my netting keeps out all of the cabbage white butterflies, the slugs are kept at bay by my liberal and consistent applications of diatomaceous earth, and I am able to pick off every single Japanese beetle from the plum tree.   As the snow flies and the temperatures outside are well below zero, such is the optimism that I feel while working on my plan for the coming season, .

Old plans, new plans & current seed listing

In the past couple of years, the garden has been expanded from 4 to 17 beds (for annual veg).  It was a lot of work and I often found myself rushing from one task to the next.  This year, I want to spend more time enjoying the garden, so I’m slowing things down and taking an “easy-does-it” approach.

I only have one major project planned – installing drip irrigation in all of the beds.  This is one of those projects that will require a lot of time and effort up front, but will ultimately result in a huge time savings later in the season and for years to come.

I'm hoping to start the installation in late spring & have it completed by the time the outdoor gardening season gets into full swing.  Installing a freestanding spigot in each area is also part of the plan and I’m almost looking more forward to that than the drip.  It will be such a pleasure to be able to turn the water on and off without having to run back and forth to the house each time.


Area #1 (Beds 1 - 8)

One of the first tasks to be done this spring in Area #1 is the removal of the huge spruce that is pushing up against our shed.

Area #1
The offending spruce is the one on the left

I will be sad to see it go – spruces are one of my favourite evergreens – but sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet.  Better it be removed now than after it causes significant damage to the shed.  After the spruce is removed we will, of course, have a huge empty gap in that spot.  I’m still uncertain what I will be planting there, but I do know that it won’t be a tree.  The main criteria will be that the new planting provide some sort of screening as that area backs onto our neighbours driveway.

The pathways in this area were sheet mulched (again) last year, with an extra thick layer of cardboard & mulch, so I’m hoping that my struggle with grass and weeds will be minimal this year.  However, I am planning on replacing the fencing, using taller U-posts & chickenwire.  Practice makes perfect - or it makes “better” anyhow - and I feel that the fencing I put up in Area #2 & the hilltop was much sturdier & more secure than the one in this area, so I’ve decided to re-do it.







For the most part, my bed layouts this year are fairly similar to last year.  In an effort to simplify crop rotation, I generally try to keep veg from the same family in each bed.  Changes in this area include closing off the angles in bed #1 & #4 and planting chives in the newly created spots, growing some annuals in the herb bed, and building a couple of square planters on either side of the entrance for annuals.

I’m going back to the same tomato spacing that I used in 2014 and incorporating some herbs into those beds as well.  Lastly, I’ll be growing legumes in bed #8 in an effort to ramp up its fertility after the willow tree (that has since been cut down) sucked all of the nutrients out of it.


Area #2 (Beds 9 - 12)

Not much will be happening structurally in this area, aside from installing the spigot & drip irrigation.

Area #2

There will be a couple of new bed layouts, however.  The peppers didn’t grow very well alongside the tomatoes back in 2014, so I decided to try eggplant this time round.  I have a feeling I may get the same result (as in the tomatoes may draw too many nutrients from the soil, which will impact on eggplant yield), but I’m willing to take the chance.




The other experiment will be with the pepper layout – you can see that I have an ENTIRE bed of peppers planted.  I read (somewhere?) that peppers actually like to grow in close quarters with their leaves touching.  Planting an entire bed would certainly be convenient.  Of course, there is the issue of shading…will the plants in the middle rows end up suffering?  Should I be planting 3 rows instead of 4?  Once again, I’m willing to risk it – if it works, think of all the different varieties I'll be able to squeeze into one bed!  If it doesn't work, well, then I'll have to try something different next year.  But you never know unless you try, right?


Hilltop (Beds 13 - 18)

The hilltop is a long term work-in-progress. 

Hilltop - The lump of mushroom compost in the middle of the picture
is where the one new bed this year will be going

I’ll only be adding 1 new bed to the hilltop this year, bed #17 in the plan.  In addition, I have to finish the mulching.  I did about 80% last year, so there is not that much left to go on that front, although I should start keeping an eye out for more cardboard.  It’s amazing how quickly I would go through an entire carload of the stuff.  Several times I thought I had lugged home more than enough to complete the job, only to run short.

And lastly, I’m hoping to start on the wooded area behind the hilltop garden, my focus being on buckthorn removal – one of the worst invasive species in our area.  In the interest of slowing down this year and taking the time to “smell the roses” so to speak, I don’t have a definitive goal for cleaning up this area; it will simply be one of those tasks that gets done, little by little, whenever I feel the inclination.




I used 2 strategies when choosing the crops for the hilltop beds this year.  Firstly, I’m not growing any climbers as last year I had issues with shading, due to how the beds were oriented.  Secondly, I focused on long term crops, in that they all take a while to mature and then the harvest is concentrated over a fairly short period of time.  I prefer to keep quick maturing crops and those that are harvested over an extended period of time in the main garden, which is closer to the house.  I also specifically chose to plant squash and corn in the new bed (#17) so that I don't have to rush to build it in the early spring.

Lastly, I'll be adding a few more straw bales to those still left standing from last year.  I'm planning to grow most of the winter squash in them again and am hopeful that I’ll have better luck this time round.  Last year I made the mistake of not conditioning the bales and the plants didn’t end up taking off until much later in the season.


Other Garden Plans

Another idea we’ve been tossing around is installing a mowing strip around the different veg areas – this would keep the mulch in place and eliminate the need for weed wackering & manual edging to stop the encroachment of grass.  If we do go ahead with this, we would likely hire it out and only do one area this year, just to see how it works out.

In addition, I didn’t end up meeting one of my goals last year of cleaning up & mulching all of the perennial borders (surprise, surprise), so that is still in play as well.

Hmm…looks like it will be a rather busy year after all.  That's ok...I’m not much for sitting around anyhow :)  So long as I take my time and enjoy the garden...no rushing around!...the most important goal this year will be met.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

31 comments:

  1. WOW, I never realized how large your garden space is! That looks like a lot of work to maintain. And I agree that planning is one of my favorite gardening tasks.

    I've thought about installing a drip irrigation system this year, but I doubt I'll be able to make that happen. And that's interesting you mention the close spacing of pepper plants, as the best year that I had for peppers was the year I thought I overcrowded them.

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    1. Oh, I definitely think you have enough on your plate this year! Installing the drip system will not be easy - which is probably why I've left it to now. All the twists and turns with the raised beds will make it much more difficult to install than in traditional ground level beds. I'm very much looking forward to the after of this project, not so much the during ;)

      And I'm glad to hear you had a good experience with close spacing for peppers - it makes me all the more eager to see if my wacky, close spacing will work!

      A veg garden this size is a lot of work, but most of it is done up front, when the beds are created, paths mulched, drip installed, etc. Once everything is in place, maintenance should be relatively easy...or that's what I'm hoping, anyhow!

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  2. It's a great time of year, making lots of plans and setting our goals for the season ahead. It's so much quieter for me this year now that I don't have the allotment, I think I could set out my plans for the year in two sentences, I'm keeping it very simple this year.

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    1. There is so much choice in absolutely everything these days - it's very easy to get carried away with too many hobbies & interests. I think that we all need to stand back every once in a while and do a bit of a sort out, letting go of the "clutter" that often makes our life too complicated & stressful.

      Now that you have given up the allotment, I have a feeling that you'll enjoy your garden at home all the more.

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  3. What a great time of year. i love the planning stage as well, but now that my garden is entering it's 7th year, I've gotten the rotations down to a science and so theres not much planning---Sob!!!
    Well, enjoy that garden and don't forget to take lots o'pictures!
    Have a good week

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    1. No planning?! How is that possible? I'm a tinkerer, so I have a feeling that I'll always be changing this or that around to see what happens. I wonder if I'll ever get to the stage where I just want to leave well enough alone. Maybe when I'm old and gray...or should I say older and grayer ;)

      I hope you have a wonderful week too...and are enjoying this unbelievably balmy weather!

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  4. It's going to be so nice!! The planning so fun. We're going for a few raised beds this year, being there part time makes it difficult but we'll see what we can do. I have a question about your mulch. It looks deep? Did you have weed cloth under? Or has it just been years of adding more and more? We had mulch trucked in a couple of years ago, I put down weedblock fabric and spread all the mulch myself. It was gorgeous...for a year or so, now I can hardly see the mulch for the grass. So it's time to put more down and that's why I was curious! Thanks and keep up the great gardening, you inspire us!

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    1. Oh, thanks 1st Man! Ah, weed cloth....I feel your pain. We didn't use weed cloth as I've actually found it to be much more trouble than it is worth. As you pointed out it works for a year or two, but then it actually makes weeds and grass that break through or start growing on top of the mulch MORE difficult to pull out! We've had a HUGE struggle with weed cloth in our front borders & have only been able to remove sections of it so far - once mulch decomposes and essentially turns to soil on top of the cloth, it's a huge pain to remove.

      So my hands-down preferred method of smothering grass & mulching around the raised beds is using cardboard. I cut the cardboard to the size I need, lay it down so that it overlaps the previous piece - you don't want any grass or weeds peaking through - then top it with a thick layer of mulch - about 3" or so. Cardboard decomposes slowly enough that by the time it's done, the grass & weeds underneath it have died off. And best of all it's free - every time I'm in a grocery store or big box store, I always ask if they have any spare cardboard lying around & am often given enough to fill my car. The one thing, though, is that you want to use plain cardboard and not the glossy stuff. And mulch does decompose, so the pathways will need to be topped up every few years, but that depends on the type of mulch you use - cedar would last a lot longer than a softwood mulch, for example. I hope this helps you in your grassy situation!

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    2. I definitely regret not planning better when building my raised bed areas as I also have to deal with grass growing up into some. When I first started the beds, (2 years ago) I put cardboard everywhere (overlapping) and then a very thick layer of mulch which broke down much sooner than I expected. Last fall I finally tilled my dug garden bed and flipped my raised boxes over into the newly tilled area. So this spring I'll till where the beds used to be and lay down new cardboard. Hopefully that cleans up most of the grass.

      Wonderful garden layouts, amazing detail you get into. I will plan which type of crop go into which beds but then it gets pretty loosey-goosey during the actual planting part.

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    3. It's all a learning process. For my initial attempt at mulching the paths, I used several layers of newspaper - this works great for garden beds where you are dealing with a few weeds here and there, but it didn't work out very well for the grass. The cardboard, however, did the trick.

      I would be pretty much lost without my plans. They are the first thing I turn to when it's time to sow or transplant. But things don't always work out as planned - some crops fail, others take longer than expected, seeds are sown late... By the end of the season my "plan" looks far less pristine :)

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  5. We have plans but we are dependent on some dry weather to make things workable. Mowing strips sound like a god plan.

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    1. The weather is always the deciding factor, isn't it? I'm really hoping that we get to doing the mowing strips. I've seen people lay down bricks, etc., but after the freezing and thawing of winter, they tend to heave. That's why we are considering hiring it out and doing concrete instead - but it will all come down to cost & we haven't a clue what to expect at this point.

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  6. It's alway fun to peruse new garden plans, all that anticipation! I've never been able to actually draw up a set of plans to follow for any length of time, year round growing just complicates things too much. But I am figuring out general rotations for the beds, simplified by the fact that there are only four of them.

    I have one piece of advice about growing your peppers close together, which I do also. To the extent that you can figure out how tall a variety grows, put the tallest ones at one end of the bed and then work your way down to the shortest at the far end. Last year I had plants that varied from as tall as almost 5 feet to about 1 1/2 feet. A couple of varieties got shaded by taller plants and didn't produce as much as I expected. Unfortunately, most variety descriptions don't include how tall the plants get....

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    1. That is great advice - I did notice that with my tomatoes in that some of them were much more vigorous than others & I'm trying to take that into account this year when I decide where each variety will go.

      Most of the pepper varieties I grew last year appeared to be about the same size, but I have a feeling that was because they didn't get the sun (being shaded by the pole beans) & water they needed. I remember how large you pepper plants were & I just (enviously!) assumed that they were all that big! I don't understand why the seed companies do not put size info on the packets - they do that for annuals, so why not veg? I'll do some digging to see if I can find any info on the varieties I'm growing but have a feeling that I will end up doing what I did for the tomatoes - plant them using a "best guess" approach and make my own notes to use in subsequent years.

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  7. You certainly make detailed plans! The drip irrigation and the spigots should make things easier for you. I wish I had some water closer to the main garden, but I've been too cheap to have it installed. I tell myself it's good exercise hauling water to the garden, but it is hard work sometimes.

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    1. Well, you are far more disciplined than I, obviously! Even with a hose running from the house to the hilltop, I was not very good at keeping those beds watered.

      btw - I wanted to comment on your last post, but the comments were turned off? That tray of peppers, all neatly labeled is quite a sight!

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    2. That explains why there are no comments! Wordpress was acting up when I was writing the post and I must have turned them off by mistake. And I had to label all the peppers before I even sowed the seed so I could keep them all straight.

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  8. Wow! I'm impressed. I usually scribble my plans on a scrap piece of paper that is covered in coffee stains and dirt. We grow lots of pepper, the hot varieties and they do very well snuggled close together. The more I can pack in a bed the better. You have a very busy garden season ahead of you. I'm looking forward to learning even more from you this year!

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    1. Thanks Karen! I'm loving all of these votes for closely spaced peppers!

      Well, I gotta say that even though my plan starts out all nice and neat, it will undoubtedly be wrinkled, torn and stained with liberal applications of coffee & dirt by the end of May ;)

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  9. I enjoyed reading about the plans for your garden. I think I may give the close spacing a try this year with the peppers too. We can all compare notes. :) I have raised beds also and have wondered about installing drip irrigation. I look forward to reading about your progress with that.
    I live in the Southeastern U.S., so it's already quite warm here. I have potatoes planted along with peas, sugar snap peas, broad beans, lettuces, and spinach. The other beds are either waiting for planting or finishing up from Fall planting.

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    1. Wow, you are quite ahead of us here! I won't be sowing anything outdoors for a few weeks still, but indoor activities are ramping up - I'll be chitting my potatoes and starting some brassicas (indoors!) next week.

      It would be fun to compare how close pepper spacing works in each of our gardens - I hope you give it a go!

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  10. Big garden. Margaret. Hope you get some help from the family and don't burn out. At the community garden we use wood chips on the paths and use your cardboard technique. I've also tried spraying with undiluted vinegar (gallon bottles are a couple of bucks at the store). Works if you spray on hot sunny days. This summer I may try my propane flamer but I'm a little worried about setting the wood chip paths on fire.

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    1. The family does pitch in now and then, especially when it comes to the bigger projects, but I'm more or less on my own for the day to day things. Which is just fine by me as those are the things I love to do!

      I also use the undiluted vinegar technique for those odd spots where a stubborn weed or bit of grass is coming up through the mulch that can't be easily pulled. Like you said, it works especially well on hot, sunny days. Using the torch certainly would be an easy and satisfying way to get at those weeds, though, but I too would be nervous about the mulch catching on fire. I've heard that it can be done if you soak the mulch thoroughly first either manually or after a good rainfall. I'll be interested to see how it works for you if you do get the courage up to try it.

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  11. You astound me! So many beds and I love how organized it all is. :o) I bought 'Eleonora' basil seeds after reading your review and have a link to you on my So Seedy page. I'm hoping to spend the summer making pesto again!

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    1. Oh, thank you Tammy! After the mildew disaster in 2014, it certainly was wonderful to be harvesting basil once again. It was a bumper crop & I was able to freeze a lot of pesto (in ice cube trays sans the cheese, which I add after it's defrosted). In fact, I had some a couple of days ago - it's such a welcome a taste of summer!

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  12. My "plans" are never as extensive as those of yours. I sketch out a diagram on a piece of A4 paper - easy enough since my garden is mostly regular-shaped raised beds. I have these sketches going back about 12 years, so it's easy enough to sort out crop-rotation. Still, even though I don't have much to show for it, I do like to spend plenty of time thinking about what's going to go where, and trying to work out how I can squeeze in a few more plants somewhere.

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    1. To me, that's what planning is really all about - thinking about the what, how & where. In fact, most of my planning time is spent with a pencil and paper as well - I print out a template of the empty beds & fill it in by hand.

      Only once I more or less settle on what I want do I input the layout into the computer. This makes things easier for me as when things change during the season (which they inevitable do for me), it's just a matter of making a few adjustments instead of erasing/redrawing, etc.

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  13. Oh my goodness. Margaret!! You are my gardening hero!! I love all your planning and organization- it's incredible. You have a seriously large garden. That's a lot if work!!! Our peppers in the bales were crammed in together and were fantastic! other years we have grown salad stuff and tomatoes so we are trying more and more things. It's quite exciting :)

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    1. Oh, thanks Chris - I do love working in the garden. Not so much the initial setup with lugging 2x4's and soil for the beds, but once that bit is done, the maintenance isn't really that difficult. I'm so encouraged by everyone's comments on growing peppers in close quarters. They are only an inch or two tall right now; a couple more months and I'll be getting those babies in the ground. Can't wait to see what you end up trying this year...it is very exciting isn't it?

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