Figuring out what to plant

How do I know what to plant in my garden? It seems like each summer at the end of gardening season I have several thoughts that I swear I’ll remember next season. What did I plant that for? Why didn’t I plant that? Who knew caring for this plant would be so time-consuming? I think back to my first years with my own garden and wonder why I planted some things. Luckily, this trial and error process is a good thing, I’ve come to realize.

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A few questions I try to ask myself when planning my garden:

  1. Will I use the produce? I try to ask myself if we will eat or use the harvest immediately or at all. My stepson asked last year to plant carrots and corn, which I wouldn’t have chosen myself, but I thought of ways I’d use the produce and have decided to grow them again this year. Win!
  2. Will I know what to do with the produce? I typically keep my herbs in pots because in the past my garden space has been more limited. I got a dill plant at the beginning of the season last year but we didn’t use it at all and it outgrew the pot and just died. Now I know a few things: we likely won’t use it early in the season, it doesn’t work well for us in a pot, and it went to seed quickly. Knowing those things will help us this year.
  3. Is it possible to preserve the produce of I don’t use all of it? I experience to more and more with preserving each year. I’ve received a few preserving books as gifts from my awesome mom and so I have new ideas and things to try. Some years some plants produce a bumper crop and it’s hard to figure out what to do with the produce. I try now to think ahead about how I will preserve the produce of each thing I plant of that happens.
  4. Will I use the preserves? After determining if I can preserve extra produce I try to ask myself if I will use preserves in that way. I have long been tempted to make mint or mint jalapeño jelly but I just don’t foresee us using it, so I never have. On the other side of that coin, however, if it’s something I want to try and I have the extra produce, why not? I might find we really like it.
  5. Will it grow in my garden? I was dead set on trying to grow artichokes last year. I craved them at the end of my pregnancy with Atticus as well as after and I still love them now. I know they aren’t easy to grow in Indiana, but I really wanted it to work last year, so I tried. And I failed. Lesson learned. But again, no harm done. Will it work in my garden? Probably not without some serious accommodations made for the plant. Will I try it again? Not any time soon, I don’t think… But you never know.
  6. How easy will it be to take care of? One word: artichoke. I wanted it to work so much, but seriously… I learned that the plant can take up lots of room, is a perennial that would need to be covered and protected in the winter in my plant hardiness zone (which is 6a), and can take a few years to produce. Is it worth it? Oh, God, how I would live to have fresh artichokes… but no, it isn’t worth it at this time.
  7. Is it appealing to me or my family in at least one way? My dad (gardener extraordinaire) often tells me I should just plant flowers in some parts of my garden, and it used to baffle me. Why plant something that doesn’t give me something? But I’m realizing he might be onto something… My parents have lots of different flowers on their property and I get totally jealous. So this year I think we will put some focus into flowers! After all they do give something: they give my parents happiness, and they surely will us, too. My mom often walks me around the yard at different times in the year and tells me about how she plants different things, what they’re called, and what memories they invoke for her. I want that in my life!
  8. Have I tried growing it before, and if so how did it go? Artichoke. Okay, okay… I’ll give another example this time. I do peas sometimes, but they never do much. They take up quite a bit of space in my raised bed, which is what I primarily use with spring plants, and they only produce a handful of pods a few times before they’re done. However, Trent loves to pick and immediately eat the fresh peas, and they’re fairly easy to take care of, especially the varieties that don’t need support to grow. Will I grow them again? Yes. Because Trent loves them it’s worth it to me, but I plant to do them differently this year. Nate has finished putting up the new perimeter garden bed and we just need to get compost and topsoil mix for it. With the extra space the peas will be worthwhile.

I used to get frustrated with my garden all the time. When things don’t work, when I don’t use all the harvest, when I want to do something particular but don’t ever get to it… all of those things frustrate me. However, I’m learning that gardening is about more than just the produce. I have fun working on my garden with my family, and we love watching the plants grow and produce. Nate and I enjoy talking about and planning for the garden. We love figuring out what we will use in different ways, and we love experimenting with different things since I love canning and preserving and he loves cooking. When we fail it’s ok: it teaches us what works and what doesn’t and what to do differently. Plus, working together as a family outside makes it all worthwhile.

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