Planning Our Garden
I am so excited about our garden that I've been planning this year's garden zones since last fall! After sketching out several versions, I developed a garden plan that we are pretty happy about and will use as a guideline for planting. Of course there is still room for change right up until the seeds and plants go in the ground!
Click here to view this year's garden plan in detail.
One of the most important zones in our garden is the perennial beds. This year we will plant a variety of perennials that hopefully will produce vegetables and fruits for years to come. In April we expect to receive an order of asparagus crowns, strawberry plants and horseradish all of which we will plant as soon as weather permits. There is also space set aside for artichokes and Brussels sprouts, as well as a permanent spot for Egyptian walking onions.
Our garden also includes several prickly pear cacti which we have left undisturbed and that have grown significantly since we first started watering them. We also left several other native desert plants growing within the confines of our vegetable garden, including the medicinal plants bayonet yucca and snake broom.
Click here to read more about the medicinal plants that grow in our area.
Last fall I also began planning a perennial flower garden. In my research I found that many of the perennial flowers must undergo a period of cold before vigorous germination can occur. In November I planted all seed varieties requiring vernalization. Once weather conditions become favorable and irrigation commences, these seeds should sprout on their own. Until then, I am eagerly awaiting the first sign of green. Once danger of frost has passed I will plant the remaining seeds for our perennial flower garden.
Our garden plans incorporate a "companion planting" system in which flowers and vegetables are interspersed to reduce garden pests and increase the population of beneficial insects in the garden. Lots of flowers in the garden will attract pollinators, as well as predatory insects that attack harmful bugs. Companion planting makes it possible to garden without the use of harmful pesticides and in my opinion these planting techniques should be at the core of an organic garden.
Click here to see a detailed view of what we will be planting in our 4' x 8' raised garden beds this year. Notice that flowers and vegetables will be grown together to achieve the benefits of companion planting.
Raised Garden Beds with Cold Frames
This will be the second year that we've planted in our raised garden beds. Because our beds have cold frame attachments, we can plant early without fussing about with cumbersome season extenders like "wall-o-water" devices. As soon as the weather warmed a touch we planted our first crops of the season in a raised garden bed with cold frame -- lettuces, kale, collards, mustard, cilantro and several other greens.
When planning a vegetable garden it is also important to make arrangements for crop rotation. Plant diseases can build up in the soil, making it necessary to change the location of disease prone varieties from year to year. In some cases it is recommended to wait several years before planting a vegetable in a bed where it was previously planted. Grouping plants in zones or "families" based on their similarities can make crop rotation easier. In our garden plans I've tried to group vegetable families together so that I can keep track of what's been planted where.
Click here to see a detailed view of what we will be planting in our new 26' beds.
Ordering Live Plants and Seed Potatoes
This year we ordered several pounds of seed potatoes and also live onion and leek plants. As soon as the ground could be worked in February we prepared the onion beds in anticipation of their arrival. The onions arrived at the end of March and we planted them right away. Potatoes are due to be delivered in April, though we still have plenty of work, preparing the new raised garden bed where we will interplant beans and potatoes.
In-Ground Garden Beds
This is our garden's second year and already we have expanded our fenced area. We will be busy working the soil in the new garden zone right up until planting day. In the new zone we'll be planting a lot of beans and this should help fix Nitrogen in the soil, enriching it for next year's garden.
Three Sister's Planting
In our new garden zone we will be trying a Native American planting technique known as the "three sister's". Instead of cultivating rows, we'll plant our corn in clusters spaced 3' to 5' apart. Once the corn begins to grow, we'll plant pole beans and winter squash seeds around the corn stalks. The pole beans will climb the corn stalks and the winter squash will act as a ground cover, filling in open spaces between the corn and bean groupings. The beans will enrich the soil benefitting the heavy-feeding corn plants. In the three sister's method, each of the plants brings it own beneficial qualities to the mix.
Ordering Vegetable Seeds
I placed several seed orders this winter! Shopping for seeds is a whole lot of fun in my opinion. Seeds are really not that expensive in the grand scheme of things and there are so many different varieties to try out. I particularly enjoy the colorful seed packets from Botanical Interests. They offer a good selection of heirloom vegetable and flower seeds. So far I've had great results from these seeds.
In order to extend the growing season we are starting seedlings in our passive solar greenhouse and will experiment with starting some outside under a cold frame as well. In the greenhouse we are using seed starting domes -- they are great at raising the temperature for germination and keeping the plants moist as they grow.
Though our seed starting experiment is underway we still have some details to work out. A lot of how-to articles on the topic of starting seeds indoors recommend the use of supplemental light and heating pads to get strong, healthy starts. On our solar homestead we just don't have the power to do this. As a result there has been a fair bit of trial and error this spring in getting our seeds started. I would say we've had moderate success. Over the summer we plan to re-engineer our greenhouse to work better for starting our seeds and I expect to get better results next year.
When we do get the hang of seed starting without the use of electricity we'll be sure to share what we've learned.
More On Gardening
Sustainable Gardening Books
I own each of these books and can recommend them to anyone who is interested in organic gardening, seed saving or root cellaring. I consult the companion planting book regularly and it has been immensely helpful in garden planning. It has a lot of information on how to plan and plant a garden that is both colorful and pesticide free.