Planning for the Derwood Demo Garden continues. Here are the stages I’ve gone through so far:
1. Brainstorming ideas. Here’s where I put down on paper that I’d like waves of single-color Swiss chard making a rainbow; beans meant to be harvested in snap, shelling and dried stages; a bed demonstrating cool-weather spinach and its warm-weather substitutes; squash that is resistant to vine borers; slow-to-bolt lettuces, and so forth.
2. Seed inventory. I listed all the seeds we already have, with dates where known. Hm, we already have a lot of seed.
3. Preliminary seed order. Using the two above documents, I came up with an ideal list of everything I’d like to order and that we don’t already have. For example, I found that we have no Cucurbita moschata squash seed (most resistant to borers); that we only have rhubarb chard seed; that we have a little pole bean seed, plenty for Masai bush beans, and also plenty for Black Turtle bush beans (to harvest dried); that we have some Winter Bloomsdale spinach and some New Zealand spinach (which is not really spinach but a hot-weather alternative). So butternut squash and a few relatives, several heirloom varieties of pole beans, and several other kinds of real and false spinach went on the list, along with a bunch of lettuces claiming to be bolt-resistant and every color of Swiss chard there is. And much more. I checked several catalogs and listed comparative prices.
4. Garden map. Using the template for the vegetable garden beds as they exist, and referring to last year’s map to make sure I’m rotating crop families, I drew a map of what will go where. This gave me a better sense of how much space I actually have to work with for each crop. I remembered paths, too.
5. Seed orders redux: trimming for reality and the budget. We’ll try to use as much of the current seed stock as possible, bearing in mind that some experiments failed, some seed is too old to use, and it’s always nice to try something new. I still ordered four kinds of Swiss chard (but not the yellow one that wasn’t carried by any catalog I chose to order from), and several varieties of spinach and summer substitutes. I reluctantly cut back on bean varieties and stuck with one kind of butternut squash (we’ll try again with some of the C. maxima and C. pepo seed we already have, and hope early use of row cover keeps the bugs off). I ordered two new kinds of lettuce, but we’ll also use up old seed even if those varieties aren’t as good in the heat. We will grow kale again, but the harlequin bug problem makes me cautious about kohlrabi and broccoli.
This is much easier to do for a small garden, although the choices are harder! It took me a long time to learn that the mapping stage is critical, since it forces me to accommodate actual physical reality into the landscape of my dreams. What do you mean, I can’t fit corn into this garden? etc. It’s also great to keep a seed inventory, especially when planning seed swaps with friends and neighbors. Or when you’re being tempted by catalogs to get five kinds of peppers and that really cool new cucumber and two kinds of watermelon. Note: most gardeners are hard-pressed to fit one kind of watermelon into their planting scheme. And yes, I ordered watermelon seed for myself this year (orange-fleshed watermelon! Fun!), and if we have a spare corner in the demo garden I’ll happily donate a plant or two…
(Photo credit: Katherine Lambert)