Monday, February 2, 2009

Garden 102 -- Planning

Look. I'm just going to go ahead and put this out there: in my opinion, the REASON you have a garden is for TOMATOES. Period. If you have other stuff, great. But you could be a legitimate, passionate gardener and grow nothing but fifteen varieties of tomatoes.

It could have something to do with how I was raised -- I remember as a child walking through a veritable jungle of seven-foot-high tomato plants by the dozen, suckering or watering or spraying blossom-set, filling five-gallon buckets with gorgeous Romas and Brandywines. Tomatoes were always the main crop for my parents, and they still are!

But ultimately, you have to decide what your family will eat, not just this summer when your determinate 'maters are all turning red at once, but into the fall. What will you preserve? How can you take advantage of limited space to make the most impact and extend your harvest into next summer?

For those in need of specifics, here's what I would plant if I were feeding a small family (mom, dad, two or three kids) from a 15' x 20' plot, with plans to can, freeze, etc. in the autumn:

at least ten tomato plants, including at least 5 sauce-type tomatoes (Roma, San Marzano, etc.), a few different heirloom varieties for slicing (Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, etc.), and one or two (at the most!) cherry or grape tomatoes for eating out of hand (Sweet 100s or a similar variety). It sounds like a lot, but if you're planning on preserving, having this much crop will keep you in canned tomatoes until next year, which is the goal, right?

a half-row or a full row of green beans. I prefer pole beans over bush beans, because they're more vertical and thus easier to harvest from. Good for baby food.

a half-row or a full row of peas of any variety. English peas also make good baby food.

a half-row of zucchini. Zucchini does not preserve well, although it is good chopped or shredded in pasta sauce, which you'll make from your sauce tomatoes. It's also EXTREMELY prolific!

a half-row or full row of cucumbers. I like English or seedless cukes. These only keep if you pickle them! The large ones at summer's end can be used to make cinnamon pickles, which sound very strange but taste a bit like candied apple rings. They're delicious!

several hard or winter squashes. Pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash, etc. all keep very well in dry, cool, dark places and make great baby food. These can be trained against a fence or planted in the back of a flower bed if you prop a trellis against your house! Try to keep them out of your normal gardening space, because they take up quite a bit of room and take a LOOOOONG time to mature.

a half-dozen or so pepper plants. More if you're planning on doing hot peppers (chillis) for salsa as well as sweet peppers (capsicums) for eating. If you plant both sweet and hot peppers, for the love of your blessed tastebuds, PLANT THEM ON OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE GARDEN. Most of you have probably never experienced the delight of biting into a bell pepper that was as hot as a jalapeno. It's called cross-pollination, people, and I'll never forget THAT science lesson ever again.

eating greens like lettuce and spinach, plus "cooking greens" like chard (silverbeet), collards, or kale. Do several plantings of these -- plant a yard or two early in the season, again two or three weeks later, again after another two or three weeks, etc. This will keep you supplied with greens all season long rather than having a single huge harvest.

root vegetables: carrots, onions, turnips, garlic, and radishes.

herbs: basil (LOTS), chives, parsley, rosemary, thyme.

No, really! Flowers encourage bees, which encourage pollination! But be strategic. Marigolds are great at keeping away bugs, so I'd plant those for sure.

If I had more space, I'd add: broccoli, eggplant, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and melons. Actually, I'd probably just add more tomatoes... but that's just me.

If I knew I'd be in the same house awhile, I'd also add rhubarb, a rare perennial in the bunch.

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