Plant What You Eat
The first step in figuring out what you should plant is to go to your refrigerator and look in your cupboards. What do you and your family eat? Do you have mashed potatoes and green beans frequently? What about salsa, pizza sauce, or jelly? Think about the foods your family eats at different times of the year. Do you bake pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas? How about herbs for stuffing?
Here's a piece of my list:
- Mashed Potatoes
- Sweet Potatoes
- Pumpkin Pie
- Blueberry Pie
Would you be willing to learn how to can, vacuum seal, or preserve your fruits and vegetables for later use? If so, this could save you thousands of dollars per year as well as several trips to the grocery store. Do you have a space in the basement that stays at a cooler, consistent temperature? What about your freezer space? Purchasing a freezer that costs a couple hundred dollars could help you save thousands the first year if you have the space to store your precious bounty.
List Ingredients You'll Need
Once you have a comprehensive list, start listing the fruits, vegetables, and herbs that correspond with those foods. For salsa, your list would include tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, and maybe some of the following vegetables and herbs, depending on what flavor you're after: jalapeno peppers, garlic, cilantro, and chipotle peppers. Feel free to look up recipes to get an idea of what you'd like to try and what ingredients you'll need. Online recipes frequently include ratings from those who've tried them as well as helpful tips to improve on the original recipe. You could also follow an old, tried-and-true family recipe!
Again, here's a piece of my list:
- Pickles: Cucumbers, Dill
- Salsa: Tomatoes, Onions, Sweet Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers, Cilantro, Tomatillos
- Salad: Lettuce, Carrots, Parsley, Dill, Spinach, Chard, Kale
- Mashed Potatoes: Potatoes!
- Baked Sweet Potatoes: Sweet Potatoes or Yams
- Pumpkin Pie: Pumkin, Ginger
- Blueberry Pie: Blueberries, Honey (if you'd like to be really adventurous and try bee farming! That's another topic for much later)
Pick the Variety That's Right for You
Once you have your list of plants you'll need to grow to make the food you want to eat, then it's time to search for the seeds you need by pouring over seed catalogs, whether in print or online (most seed companies offer both). Here's a site that has a wonderful list of seed companies: Monsanto-Free Seed Companies
Let's look at the most commonly-planted plant in gardens across America: the tomato! How do you decide which variety to plant? Read the description of a tomato variety that looks interesting. Does it taste good when canned or is it a better variety for slicing and putting on a sandwich? Again, think back to why you want to grow tomatoes in the first place. Next, you have to take your growing environment into consideration. Do you live up north where the winters are longer and you have a shorter growing season or in the south where the summers are harsh or somewhere in between? How hardy is the plant for your zone (e.g. does it grow well in drought conditions, sunny, rainy, etc) This may require a bit more researching than reading the description, but you'll be happy you did the research to find a tomato variety that suits your needs.
I'm planting the Burbank Slicing Tomato from Sustainable Seed Company this year, because it's supposed to do well in dry conditions. I could not water the garden every day last year, because I live 35 minutes away from where I grow my food, and the soil has a high amount of clay. The tomato variety I planted, Black Krim, withered in the heat, and I didn't get much of a harvest.
Don't overwhelm yourself with too many varieties of the same plant. Pick one, maybe two varieties of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs that you want to grow. This way, you can focus all of your efforts on helping one or two varieties thrive and see if they're right for you. You can save the seeds from the most bountiful, healthy plants and sow them next year to get even better yields! If the variety you picked did really poorly, you may need to plant a different variety next year like I will be doing by planting the Burbank Slicing Tomato instead of the Black Krim.
Now you need to take a look at your garden space. How many square feet do you have to plant and what space does each variety need? I posted Garden Schematics last winter that you could use as a guideline, but I will be posting more next week to further aid you in figuring out what type of configuration would be best for your plants. This will also help you decide how many packages of seeds you should order of each vegetable, fruit, and herb you intend to plant. In most cases, ordering 1 packet of each is sufficient.
Let's take a look at the tomato again. Tomatoes do well in tomato cages where they can be contained to a predetermined area as they grow, both supporting their weight and helping to keep your garden more organized so you can get to the fruit at harvest time! I tend to space my tomatoes about 18" apart in order to choke out the weeds and to grow more in a small space. It is also important that you plant your tomatoes in such a way that they do not block out the sun for other plants in your garden. This is why it's a good idea to plant them on the north side of the garden bed, also as discussed and illustrated in my Garden Schematics post.
Keep a Journal
In conclusion, go easy on yourself! Especially if this is your first year of planting, realize that you will miss certain things and make mistakes, even with the best planning. This is why it's a good idea to keep a journal detailing when you planted, how far apart you planted everything, what types of fertilizers and compost you used and how much, etc. Next year, you can try something a little different. Keep learning, and keep trying!
Next week, I'll show you how to companion plant and share my garden plans for 2013. What are you hoping to grow this year? Let me know in the comment section. Happy seed shopping!