Adapted from article originally published in Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph (04.04.2012)
If you are interested in eating fresh, nutritious, tasty, and local food, gardening literally offers a hands-on approach. Successful gardening is rooted in an on-going learning process, in which planning plays a key role. Right now, the chilly days of early spring offer northern gardeners, novice and expert alike, a prime opportunity to plan for the 2012 growing season. Vegetable gardens, fruit patches, pots of culinary herbs, and taste buds will benefit from a few minutes of prep before the first seed is planted.
To start your planning process, review your records, or make note of what you remember of your garden from last season - what you grew and where. If you are starting fresh, in unfamiliar soil, don’t worry. Keep good notes this season, and keep them in mind when planning for future seasons. Next, draft a quick list of the things you would like to grow this season. What did you love from last year? What will you try new this year? Finally, consider where you will plant the various vegetables, fruits and herbs on your list.
A particularly handy axiom to keep in mind during spring planning is “fruit-root-leaf.” This rotation mantra aims to maximize soil fertility and crop resilience. Growing the same crop in the same place for a number of seasons can deplete the soil of key micronutrients; rotating crops changes which nutrients are used from season to season. Additionally, seasonal rotations can break up the life cycle of pests which require specific host plants.
The rotation is based on the following schedule, and applies to each specific area of a garden or field: Season 1 - Fruit-bearing plant (i.e. tomatoes or peppers); Season 2 - Root-producing plant (i.e. potatoes or onions); Season 3 - Leaf-producing plant (i.e. lettuce or herbs). Clearly, most plants produce all three parts. The rotation emphasizes the part of the plant harvested for human consumption.
Each year, it is advisable to rotate crops in your garden, based on this simple fruit-root-leaf sequence. In addition, many gardeners get great results from companion planting - planting certain plants together, and others far apart. Visit the Wikipedia entry or the Rodale Institute's Organic Gardening magazine online for lots more information about companion planting.
Once you have decided on what you will grow, and considered what grows well alongside, it's time for a map. If you like drafting or drawing by hand, pencil your garden out on paper. Or, try the garden diagram functions offered online by various sources such as Mother Earth News (www.motherearthnews.com/garden-planner), smallblueprinter.com, or the Rodale Institute’s Organic Gardening magazine (www.organicgardening.com).
Of course, soil and seeds are also key decisions for any gardener. The next post in this series focuses on various factors to consider when selecting seeds, and how to source them locally. In the third part of the series, we will take a look at local community gardens. These sites address two more elements - soil and space -which may be in short supply in your corner of the city.
If you have tips or questions about preparing for the local garden season, please share them on our Facebook page online, or below in the comments. Shared knowledge is a true perk of gardening!