On Tuesday night we had our first workshop for the 2012 Grow Appalachia year. The workshop focused on garden planning and planting and was facilitated by Jeremy Williams, the Harlan County Extension agent. Jeremy did a wonderful job presenting useful information, as always, and we were extremely pleased with turnout for the meeting. As with everything pertaining to gardening, it may still seem a bit early to be thinking about planning and planting your garden, but spring is just around the corner and the earlier you plan the easier it will be to have a successful gardening season. As I’m sure you all know, as of Tuesday, some of the more traditional gardeners have already begun their spring planting, with the traditional Valentine’s Day peas. So don’t let the early birds show you up, plan your garden now and come summer, it can be just as bountiful!
The first step in planning a successful garden is to arrange everything on paper before you start digging. If you had a garden last year but do not have a diagram of it try your best to remember what was planted where and draw a diagram of it. Then make a new blank drawing of your garden (graph paper works well for this so that you can draw your plots to scale) and write in what you plan to plant this year. If you had a garden in the same spot in the past, you will want to consider a crop rotation schedule so that your plants will continue to do well year after year. At our workshop we passed out a diagram that breaks down plant categories and suggests crop rotation based on the four group system, which classifies plants into the following 4 categories:
1.                           1.   Plants grown for leaves or flowers
2.                           2.  Plants grown for fruits
3.                           3.  Plants grown for roots
4.                            4.  Legumes that feed the soil

The rotation diagram and plants specific to each category can be found on the Grow Pine Mountain website:

So now that you have your garden on paper, the next step is to make sure that you are planting during the correct season and decide whether or not you will need to plan any succession planting. Some seeds need to be planted in early spring and will take the entire summer to germinate and mature, whereas other seed will sprout and produce within the month and then die, leaving you with a free garden bed. To plan this aspect of your garden it may be useful to make subsequent drawings with each different planting drawn in, or one drawing for each approximate planting phase (ex. Early spring = diagram 1, late spring = diagram 2, mid- summer = diagram 3, fall = diagram 4). Most importantly record your garden’s lifecycle in a way that makes sense to you and that you will be able to go back to and understand in several months or several years.
One tip for planning a successful garden, especially if it is your first, is, PLEASE DON’T PLANT MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE! I know, it is so very tempting to plant large quantities of every single vegetable that you like to eat, I for one have to reign myself in everyday as I plan my seed order and devise my garden diagram. But remember that all those seeds you stick in the ground, will be plants that need weeding, watering, pruning, harvesting, etc. throughout the entire summer. As Grow Appalachia coordinators we care about your garden and come early August we would rather see a small, well tended, and well appreciated garden, than a huge space overrun by weeds with rotting produce on the ground. Don’t get me wrong, your garden does not have to be perfect and stunning, just don’t abandon it completely. Here are some great resources that you can use to determine how much to plant based on the size of your family, how much you want to eat fresh and how much you want to preserve:

Now that you have everything planned don’t let your good intentions slide when your garden starts producing. Keep detailed records throughout the season so that each year you can improve. Specific things to record are, the planting date of each crop, the actual harvest date of each crop, what crops did well, what were specific problems that you had, etc. In addition to all these things Jeremy also mentioned that taking picture of your garden throughout the season is a great way to keep records, or just show off your great success, whichever you prefer. Lastly have fun and remember that your garden is something that you do for yourself and your family and if you take the time to plan and care for it, it will treat you well (at least that’s what we hope for)!