There are a number of factors I consider when I am planning my garden for the season.
The first thing I consider is, “What do I want to grow?” That usually gets me looking online or in seed catalogs for seeds. If you have ever looked at a seed catalog, then you understand what a difficult task it is looking through the catalog to find the variety you want to grow. Not all varieties are created equal, however, and a prolific variety on the East Coast won’t necessarily be prolific in the Deep South. That brings me to the next consideration.
“What cultivar/variety is right for my area?” Luckily, one is not without resources. A simple internet search for recommended cultivars for your area will most likely provide most of the information you need. When I type in, “recommended cultivars for Central Texas”, I find a helpful article in the Examiner with a long list of varieties growers in our area have particular success with. I discover that, for best results, if I want to grow broccoli, I should obtain seeds of the following cultivars: Packman, Premium Crop, and Green Magic.
After determining what crops I want to grow and what varieties are best, it is usually a matter of shopping around to find those specific cultivars. “Where can I obtain seed of the varieties I have chosen?” Because the big seed companies are not located in my area, I did a search for “seed companies in Texas”. I found that Willhite seeds carries many cultivars recommended for my area because it is a local seed company.
The next consideration is, “When is the recommended planting time for this crop?” along with the related question, “How long until harvest?” Sometimes this makes a big difference on what ends up growing in my garden. I may want to grow okra this fall, for example, but it isn’t the right time of year to plant them. Or, I may want to grow bell peppers this fall, but it is now too late to start them from seed and I will have to transplant instead. To determine the right times of the year to plant certain crops, I rely on the Travis County Aggie Planting Chart, which is the most local I can find. I use this to determine the window of opportunity I have to get seeds or transplants in the ground. If you do an internet search, you should be able to find something similar for your area.
Once I have chosen my crops, selected the variety for my area, and determined the correct planting time, it is next a consideration of, “Do I have room, and where will I put them?” For me, this usually entails drawing an illustration of my yard and planting area. I garden out of raised growing boxes, and I am limited to nine separate areas to grow in. By drawing out the plan, I can visualize how the crops will be arranged in the garden.
Another equally important factor is, “What have I grown in those locations before?” It’s important to rotate most crops, planting them in one location once every three seasons or so. By keeping record of what you have grown when and where, you can most accurately maintain a good crop rotation schedule to keep your garden plants and soil healthy.
Since I have several different boxes located in varying exposures to full sun, I also have to think about, “What crops do best in the longest amount of full sun and what crops do okay with a little more shade?”
Finally, it is important for me to think even one more season ahead and ask, “What will I want to plant the next season?”. If I am planning a fall garden, I am also planning my winter garden. This is because the fall garden will roll right into the winter garden, as I stagger in new crops after harvesting the old. This is important so as to effectively use as many boxes I can at any given time. For example, I am growing tomatoes and peppers this fall. I already have them transplanted and have figured a max of sixty days until those plants have produced and will be done for the season. According to my calculations, that means I will be ripping them out of the ground at the end of September, leaving that box open for winter planting. If I plan my garden right, I’ll be able to use that box immediately to start a new crop.