Dreaming of the Spring Garden

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In the bleak mid-winter…”

We sing that hymn in church every year around this time. And it can be pretty bleak. Colder temperatures. Blustery days. Too many layers. Less daylight. But there are these beautiful gifts that arrive like an extension of Christmas in my mailbox, first one, then another, then another. Seed catalogs! Pages and pages of color where memories of fragrance and taste are revived!

Now is the time to plan for an abundant garden season.

Seed catalogs are wonderful guides! My favorites are those featuring heirloom, organic varieties, like Baker Creek, and those best suited for my area of the country, like Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Each description will detail the plant’s size, shape, color, germination and harvest times, flavor profile, and tolerances. From the catalogs I’ll choose which varieties will work best in my little microclimate. Our city is in gardening zone 7b, but our little veggie garden is more like 8a or 8b. It’s protected on three sides by houses and a large shed, it’s all raised beds, and it has a glorious Southern exposure. We also choose the appropriate number of plantings for our garden space and our family’s needs. (My husband is famous for sneaking in extra or volunteer tomato and pepper plants, but that’s another story. …) I make a master list of the seeds ordered with short plant descriptions and the selected seed company.

There are helpful garden design applications to help plan the perfect vegetable garden. GRIT has a nice one, as does Mother Earth News. There are online calculators to assist when deciding how much you’ll need to grow to feed your family or preserve for the following winter. But I’m an old-fashioned girl, and I always start on a lovely piece of graph paper, drawing my garden perimeter and planting areas to scale. I then map out what plants will go where. I rotate the plantings each year so I don’t plant tomatoes in the same spot year after year, inviting specific pests and diseases back for more and depleting my soil. I also make notes about early season to late season replacement crops as necessary. For instance, radishes will be planted in early Spring, but once harvested, eggplant will fill the empty spot. I also make notes of herbs and companions to be planted. Basil and borage with tomatoes, nasturtiums and marigolds in the corners of raised beds, and so on. This part of the planning is done in pencil … a girl has to reserve the right to change her mind, after all. Once the locations for all the plantings are set, I color the garden plan … because it’s pretty, it’s fun, and I am a 5-year-old at heart.

I refer to this plan when placing my orders or purchasing seeds and plants locally. I refer to this plan when the orders arrive, making sure I have everything I need for the coming season. I refer to this plan when planting, double checking the arrangement of my plantings. I refer to this plan when replacing Spring crops with Summer ones. I refer to this plan when harvesting, making notes about which plants produced well. And I refer again to this plan in the bleak mid-winter, when those luscious seed catalogs begin arriving.

It all starts now. Make a plan. Dig into the warming soil. Plant well. Harvest abundantly.