Plan It, Don’t Slam It

Jean and Dan's Garden 2015


Several years ago, when I was a lad in my teens, I read a publication from the Scott’s Lawn Care Company. Among the many articles was one entitled, “The Impulse Versus the Plan.” In the article, they discussed the benefits of planning out your lawn chores in advance, rather than just letting the impulse of spring weather propel you into random action.


The same can also be said of your vegetable garden. Many gardeners, especially those who have never gardened before, are content to be carried away by the moment. They eagerly rush out into the sunshine, drive over to their nearest big box store, purchase whatever strikes their fancy at the moment, then rush home to plant their treasures in the ground with dreams of juicy tomatoes and buttery sweet corn dancing in their heads. And then, come autumn, when they’ve reaped a harvest of little or nothing, they are left scratching their heads wondering where they went wrong. Well, one could probably find a number of mistakes that were made, but I will contend that their number one mistake was that, metaphorically speaking, they slammed it all together, rather than taking the time to carefully plan things.


Short and to the point, a plan works. A well thought out plan, properly executed, will give you a harvest of plenty instead of a cornucopia of nothing.


So how do you develop this plan for your garden?


Start by reviewing what you did last year. What worked and what didn’t? Which vegetables yielded a bountiful harvest, and which were miserable failures? Did you have problems with insect pests? Diseases? Animals? How did you handle them? Were your efforts successful or did the rabbits have a royal feast at your expense?


Next think about the garden site itself. If this will be a brand new garden, think about where you want to situate it — preferably on the south side of your house where you’ll get the most amount of sun. You’ll want to measure out the site, mark it off with stakes and string, then dig up the grass and amend the soil. If this is an existing garden, you may want to test your soil, then depending on the results, mix in some organic matter to recharge it.


Now, think about the vegetable plants themselves. What varieties of vegetables did you grow last year, or in years past? Did you like them? Do you want to plant those varieties again or would you like to try something different? Perhaps you had problems with disease or insect infestations. You may want to think about rotating those vegetables to a different part of the garden, choosing a disease-resistant cultivar, or avoiding that vegetable entirely.


Once you’ve armed yourself with definite decisions on how you want to proceed with your garden, you can shop with confidence. You’ll know what you want, and what questions to ask to find it. You’ll have carefully researched all of the choices available and made the ones that are right for your garden.


“Gee, Mark, you’re sure a wet blanket,” you may be saying to yourself. “I go to my garden to relax and enjoy myself. Research and planning is what I do all day at school or at work. Now you’re telling me I have to do this for my garden too? Where’s the fun and relaxation in that?”


Okay, let me ask you a question. Where’s the fun in seeing the results of your hard work in planting and watering come up short year after year? How relaxing is it to see all your wonderful vegetables destroyed by the same disease or insect pest again and again, and not knowing why or what to do about it? Wouldn’t you much rather have a bumper crop? I agree that gardening is supposed to be fun but it also requires effort. Isn’t it more fun to see your effort actually rewarded?


It has been said that in life, if you don’t have a plan, you’ll end up working for someone who does. May I offer a similar statement for gardening? In gardening, if you don’t have a plan, you’ll be envying the harvest of someone who does.


Time for Some Garden Boldness



You’ve probably heard me say (or write) on many occasions that if you’re a first-time gardener, then your beginning efforts should be baby steps. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Keep it small and simple — lettuce and some other greens, a tomato plant or two, or even just a few vegetable plants in containers. When you had success with this small garden, then you can gradually expand in size and scope. And you’ve done all of that! From your humble beginnings, you’ve reaped a bountiful harvest that increases with each year. You’ve gone from being a rank beginner to an experienced gardener and you’ve grown in skill, knowledge, and confidence.

And now, you’re ready. Ready to take a giant leap of faith. Ready for new flavors and new additions to your garden that will make it stand out in new ways and provide you with flavors and textures that will surprise and delight you, your family, and your friends. Because now is the time to… drum roll please… plant some new and as of yet untried vegetables and fruits.

“Hmmmm, I don’t know,” you say. “I’m doing all right with all the stuff I’ve planted in years past. Maybe I shouldn’t mess with success.” Rubbish, say I! Mess with it, tempt it, torment it, break it! Because that’s the only way you are ever going to grow as a gardener! Timidity and trepidation were fine and even desirable when you were a rank beginner. But you are a rank beginner no longer. You are an experienced gardener with many years of successful harvests to your name. You delight your family and amaze your friends with all of the delicious tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, etc, that you present to them year after year. You are successful and confident in your abilities. You know how to grow — and it shows! You have passed all previous tests and you are ready to take your garden to the next level!


Look through your catalogs. Look at all the new offerings, both types and varieties. Isn’t there something new in there that you think would be cool to try to grow? Aren’t there some fruits and vegetables that currently seem to exist only in pathetic (and expensive) specimens at your local grocery store that make you think that you could save money and produce better quality merchandise if you grew it yourself? Well guess what? Yes you can!


Ever thought about growing your own wheat that you could harvest, mill into flour, and turn into homemade bread? Ever considered growing corn — not sweet corn — but flint corn that you could grind into cornmeal and convert to corn bread or cornmeal muffins? Or how about growing your own grapes for fresh eating, jelly, or wine? Or how about really going out on a limb and attempting to grow your own cocoa bean tree, harvest and ferment the pods, and produce your own chocolate?

This year, I’m asking you to set a goal to exhibit some garden boldness. Choose one vegetable, fruit, grain, or even fungus (e.g. mushrooms) that you’ve never grown before. Then step out on a limb (pun intended) and grow it. Will you succeed? I can’t guarantee that. Anytime you try something new, you run the risk of failure. But what I can promise is that the very act of trying something new will give you a feeling of boldness, daring, and new perspective you’ll never find by sticking with the same old thing. I’d call that worth the risk.