Christmas is coming, and now is a perfect time to assess how your garden went and what you might change for next year. It can be lots of fun to plan your garden while it is cold and quiet.
Knowing how you did and what you want to improve is important to make sure your 2021 garden is the best for you and your family. Here are eight questions to ask yourself in the coming months to help plan your garden:
1 – What Went Wrong This Year?
So many things can go wrong when you are gardening. Pests, weeds, weather, germination problems. Some plants just didn’t do as well as they could.
It is important to figure out what doesn’t do well so you can decide if you want to change things. Maybe you should move a plant to a different bed. Maybe it needed to be planted at a different time. Maybe you have struggled with it so much that you don’t want to grow it any more.
Maybe everything grew like crazy, but you didn’t harvest on time. Or you didn’t weed properly. Or your harvest rotted on your counter or in your fridge because you didn’t have a plan to eat it all.
If you had an abundance of food and it was wasted, it helps to plan your garden better next year. Should you grow less? Find new recipes? Plan out harvest dates over a longer period? Or learn a new preserving skill like canning or freezing?
Likely at least one plant did NOT do well. Now is a great time to learn more about why. Is there higher pest pressure in this area? Should you do a soil sample to find out if your soil is lacking something?
Sometimes a new seed variety might work better. Or a different planting time. Some may add row covers to their garden to keep pests out. Planting more diversely might encourage beneficial insects to attack the pests.
Was your garden too dry or too wet? How might you fix that next year? You could put in an irrigation system, add some swales to collect rainwater, or add amendments if your soil is too sandy.
Knowing what didn’t work well helps to plan your garden better for next year. You know what areas you need to focus on so you can improve your harvest.
2 – What Went Well This Year?
Likely many things did work well in your garden this past year. Write down why you think it worked so well. If you liked the food you grew, keep track of when you planted, what you planted, and what you did well. That way you can do it again.
You might want to focus on the plants that did well versus those that did not. Plant more of them, and make a plan to use them all.
It is a great idea to plan your garden around what grows well. Perhaps you should focus on things you do well, and then try a few new techniques to try to improve the problem areas or to add new plants to your garden.
3 – What Do You Want To Change?
There is always something to change or improve in your garden. Based on what worked and what didn’t, you should have some ideas of what you might want to change.
If you bought plants last year, you might want to try starting some seeds. Learn more about the process and figure out how you want to do it. Starting seeds means you can try new varieties of plants.
If your plants had a lot of pest or disease pressure, learn more about what the problems were. What can you do to fix it next year? Look at fertility, at whether there was too much or too little water, or whether you can do something to reduce pest pressure in your garden.
You might want to add beds, or add trellising to your garden. If you don’t compost already or could do more, consider making your own compost for your garden.
If you were totally overwhelmed by your garden, you might want to scale it back. Or research ways to reduce work. Perennials might be a better solution than annuals.
4 – What Do You Want to Grow This Year?
Before you look at those seductive seed catalogs, make a basic list of what you want to grow this year. What foods do you and your family like to eat? What might you want more of?
If you want to grow to preserve your food, think about how you want to do it. If you want to try root cellar crops, make a list of them. If you really want a lot of tomatoes and salsa, write that down.
It’s easy to lose your head when looking at the catalogs, so starting with a plan can help with that. If you plan your garden before you look at seeds you might not buy too many.
5 – Where Do You Want to Put Your Plants?
Hopefully you already have a map drawn up of your garden. If not, do it. Get an idea of where you want to put your plants so you know how many you need. It is best to plan your garden with a map.
There are programs online to help you draw up your garden, but I like doing it on paper. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it gives you a good idea of how much space you have.
With your map, figure out where you want to put your plants next year. Then you know how much of each plant you need to get.
Think about irrigation and companion planting as well here. Adding them to your map helps you recognize where you can improve your garden beds for maximum productivity.
6 – What Seeds and Plants to Buy?
Finally, it is time to start looking at what seeds and plants you want to buy! This is the most fun part. It can be overwhelming, but it helps to plan your garden ahead of time.
Start looking through the seeds you want to buy and start writing down what you might want. Look at hardiness zones, disease and pest resistance, sizing. If you have a small garden or are only growing in containers, look for small or dwarfing plants.
Try different or new varieties. Seeds are cheap. You don’t have to go overboard, but trying some new options can be a lot of fun. You may learn they do better in your garden than what you had before.
Plan your garden on your map to see where to plant each type of seed can help you stay organized as well.
7 – What is Your Garden Timeline?
Now that you have finished your garden planning, it’s time to figure out when you will do everything. Write down planting dates, harvest dates, when to amend soil or look for pests based on what happened before.
If you know you’ll be taking a vacation at a certain time, then plan your garden harvest times around those vacations. Plan your garden seed starting times as well.
If you know when certain insects arrive in your garden, write that down so you are ready to fight them. Make it a habit to visit your garden and look for pests, for weeds, for whether your plants need more water.
Of course, gardens never quite follow the schedule. But you can certainly write up what should happen, and then not be caught unaware when your harvest gets crazy.
Knowing when to harvest your plants means you can have canning equipment on hand and ready to go. You can plan meals so you can enjoy your produce before it goes bad.
Don’t forget fall maintenance either. It’s easy to get overwhelmed towards the end of the season. Make sure you plant cover crops and add compost when needed so that the next year can be that much better for your garden!
8 – What Else to Consider?
Most Marylanders can’t grow enough food for all their needs. Gardening is a great way to get the freshest, most delicious, most unique foods out there. You can grow exactly what you want on your schedule.
You can have chickens, or rabbits, or quail in your yard for meat and eggs. But you probably won’t have dairy animals, or choose to grow your own grains.
So if you can’t grow it all, how can you supplement your garden? Maybe a produce CSA isn’t what you want, but there are meat CSAs out there, and lots of farmers markets in the Baltimore area for you to try.
See how you can eat more locally in the coming year. Now is a great time to start thinking about how you could eat locally all year long. Here at the Baltimore Foodshed, you can find any type of local food you could wish for, as well as how to preserve them to enjoy all year!