We are very lucky to have awesome landlords who let us till up (actually, helped us till up) about a third of our backyard for a garden. It happened late last year because they hadn’t realized we wanted a garden, and we hadn’t realized they’d be okay with us doing something so dramatic. This meant we didn’t have time to do our own starters, or even plan much, though it all turned out well in the end. Who can argue with fresh heirloom tomatoes right out of the backyard, right?
This year, we obviously know it’s coming and can be a bit more ambitious. This weekend, we put together our seed order from seedsavers.org, and I’ve started figuring out how much we can reasonably grow and put by. Our garden space isn’t big enough to feed us entirely, but it can go a long way towards supplementing our food budget and our health. This year, we also have access to a greenhouse with warming mats to start our seedlings! And, speaking of seedlings, it’s just about time to get some of them started. By the time our seeds arrive, it’ll be perfect.
So what are we growing, and why? I’m not going to go into the planting schedule yet, as I’m still working on the rotation schedules so we can garden in all seasons; but, here’s what we plan on harvesting in what season (obviously, some of these will start in one season and carry through to another, weather depending):
Spring: Greens (spinach, various lettuces), peas. With luck, blueberries from my potted plants!
Summer: tomatoes (several varieties), beets (these will be interval planted for continuous harvest), carrots, some greens (shade planting), leeks (late), radishes.
Fall: Beets, leeks, turnips, radishes, carrots, sunchokes, Australian Butter and Thelma Saunders squashes, kale, second planting of peas, fall crop of lettuces, tomatoes.
Overwinter in the ground or harvest late/cold storage: leeks, kale, carrots, spinach, squash, beets, turnips, green tomatoes, winter radishes, and sunchokes.
We’re doing all heirlooms, and as much organic as we can get our grubby little hands on. This is a far more ambitious undertaking than last year, but I think the payoff will be worth it. We elected to do high-yield varieties of squash and peas, and the sunchokes are also high-yield as a general rule. Our goal was to do a lot of fresh diversity in small quantities we can eat at harvest, and larger quantities of limited “staples” so we have enough to actually be usable for a good part of the winter. Some things, like squash, only get better with storage (to a point, obviously), and so we are really looking forward to these. Some things, like sunchokes, store just fine in the ground (and, in fact, are made better by freezing); so, we can have the produce without taking up all of our rather limited cold storage.
We’re also going to move some of our “cold storage” around next year. Squash prefer slightly warmer, drier temperatures than, say apples; so, we’re going to store them in another area. Our once concern is that our cold storage won’t be cold enough, which has actually been a problem this year. While I appreciate the warmer winter both from a personal stand point (I don’t like the cold much, hence I moved south) and a financial angle (our heating bills have been about half what they were the last few years), it is taking a toll on the apples. We’re going to have to sauce them out soon.
I spent a lot of this weekend going over two of my favorite books: Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables, and Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation. There is a bit of modification that goes on for us, since both books (especially the latter book) is written with the general assumption of a colder climate than Virginia generally has. The hardest part of cellaring here isn’t, as in the north, the worry of freezing–it’s the worry of spoilage due to warmth. But, both books are very useful for anyone who is interested in putting up food. The Root Cellaring book in particular is a great resource for cold storage methods (did you know hard squashes need to be cured before they get put into cold storage?), duration food can be expected to last, what you should and should not store together and why, and all kinds of other neat stuff.
I’ll be doing a layout and schedule soon, and I’ll post them here. I’d love to see your gardens, your planning methods, and your storage hopes and dreams, too!