September 8, 2023 Amy Bluhm
Next Year’s Garden: 5 Ways to Plan Ahead
According to Kelly, anyone can grow a green thumb. You simply need good inspiration and a smart plan.
As a child, I grew up admiring my mom’s resourcefulness when it came to putting food on the table. Every year she’d plant her garden. After harvest, I would help her to can and store all of the vegetables we would eat that year. These memories fueled my desire to start my own garden as an adult. My husband and his family once ran a roadside stand specializing in tomatoes, but we found it difficult to manage the demands of the farm while trying to keep one-hundred tomato plants pruned and watered. Even though we decided to retire the stand, I have kept my own personal garden and expanded our selection to include peppers, melons, potatoes, and whatever else gets me excited each year. Now my husband can keep his focus on the dairy and row crops. I focus on growing food for the family in addition to milking and fieldwork.
Here are a few of the things I have learned over the years that help me continue in my family’s inspiring gardening tradition while maintaining my sanity and budget.
1. I plan ahead.
Each year I have to decide which vegetables will be more economical to grow versus purchase from the grocery store. It involves a lot of thinking ahead and understanding the food habits of my family. I’ve discovered that there are so many ways to set up a garden. If I was starting a garden for the first time, I’d plan by simply growing one thing that each person in my household would love to eat.
2. I know my limits and plant accordingly.
I cover my garden soil with plastic. While that’s not a feasible approach on the farm, it’s the best way for me to prevent pests and weeds in the garden. Without the plastic covering the soil, I would spend hours every day weeding and tilling up the soil. I don’t have that kind of time! So while I spend more money at the beginning of the season on plastic, I have more time and energy to be productive in other areas of my life, such as running my online boutique and helping on the farm. I can enjoy my garden much more when it doesn’t overwhelm me.
3. I choose seeds that give me the most bang for the buck.
This is why my favorite garden vegetable is tomatoes. One plant produces numerous tomatoes, and they are inexpensive to buy. There are also so many ways to preserve tomatoes for the year. Some of my favorite recipes include sauces, soups, and salsas all made with my tomato harvest. I definitely recommend planting what you or your “people” love the most.
4. I don’t farm or garden alone.
Our farm is a family effort. And so many of my family members have a garden. For the garden, we consult with each other to determine who is growing which vegetables. I know I never need to plant green beans because my mom has planted the green beans for our family every year. We can expect to be given at least 100 quarts of green beans from her garden each season. I plant plenty of tomatoes and share the extras as well. My greatest enjoyment each year is gifting jars of food to my family and friends. And joining in on the adventure alongside other people makes it more fun and encouraging.
5. I keep learning.
Many people feel that growing food is an innate skill; you either have a green thumb or don’t. Before I started, I would have said the same thing. But there are so many amazing resources for people to learn, whether you live on a large farm like me or in the inner city. For my own inspiration, I love visiting Baltimore and seeing the community gardens. These spaces allow residents to work a plot of land and host farmers markets and cooking classes all within the neighborhood. I have also discovered that my county’s agricultural extension office has useful information on the best vegetables to plant, when and how to plant them, and how to can and preserve them safely. When I learn from others, it makes me more brave to try new things. Even reading a few blogs is a helpful way to gain steam for a new gardening project.
I have experienced so much joy in feeding my family and friends through gardening. I hope it inspires you to experience the same joy in growing and preserving food that I experience year after year.