plan the garden

Mid-winter is the best time to plan your garden and start ordering seeds for the coming growing season. Although spring might seem still a long way ahead, eager gardeners can start growing as early as late winter.

If you want to start this year’s gardening journey off on the right foot, do some planning first and make a list of what you’ll grow, and then find the seed suppliers and place your orders.

By making a plan, ordering your seeds ahead of time and sticking to the PIC calendar you’ll avoid a lot of mistakes due to bad timing. When the action starts in late winter/early spring you’ll want to have everything ready and not wait for the seeds to arrive or wonder what to grow, so now is the best time for wondering and picking…

What you’ll need?

Estimated cost: $0

1. Planning spreadsheet
2. Seed catalogs or list of suppliers (use this database)

Estimated time: 2h

STEP 1: Create three distinctive groups of crops

Start with the big picture and create three distinctive categories of crops so that you can classify your veggies according to their role.

These three big categories are:

  • Staple crops
  • Nutrient crops
  • Supplemental crops

Staple crops are the ones from which you’ll derive most of your calories. These are reliable, easy to grow (low labor), and storable crops such as potatoes, squash, beans, cabbages, onions, etc. You’ll grow these in high volumes, and they’ll take a disproportionate amount of your garden space.

If push comes to shove you could survive solely on these crops; they are calorie-dense and provide you with the raw energy you need. However, although you’ll be able to survive, you won’t be able to thrive as you also need nutrients to be healthy.

Nutrient crops will fill that gap; these are greens such as kale, chard, spinach, arugula, etc. You’ll be mostly harvesting these fresh, growing them year-round, and sometimes freeze-storing the surplus. For your own needs, you won’t have to produce a high volume of these, nor will they take up much space, but they are nonetheless an essential part of your crisis garden.

Then there are supplemental crops. In this group fall all other crops that you’ll grow in some capacity – either for fun, or as a taste supplement, as an experiment, or as an additional summer-/wintertime yield. This doesn’t mean that they are not nutrient- or calorie-dense, but just that they are supplemental to the other two categories. These could be eggplants, melons, peppers, corn, kohlrabi, etc.

–>Action Item: None. I’ve already done this step for you. In the spreadsheet, you’ll find that the first column is already split into these three categories – so you can just put a checkmark for this step and move onto Step 2.

STEP 2: Decide what you’ll grow in each of the groups

Now you should select the crops you’ll grow in each of these groups.

I’ve already alluded to what crops might fall in which category, but what they’ll actually be all depends on your particular context. Here are some useful prompts to help you with making the selection. Think about these as you brainstorm.

  • What are the crops that you eat — Think about your eating habits and select the crops you like to consume.
  • What are crops that you can’t buy — If you like to eat something, but you can’t buy it at the store or farmers market, you can always grow it yourself.
  • What are the crops that save you money — Think about the most expensive crops you buy and then grow them.
  • What crops are new and exciting — You can always try something new; you might end up putting it on your “crops I like to eat and can’t live without” list.

In the template spreadsheet, there is already a list of the most common vegetables we all like to grow. They are already grouped to some extent, but you can move the rows around as you find appropriate given your personal preference and eating habits.

–>Action Item: Update Column C [Crop] on the spreadsheet with your preferences.

STEP 3: Calculate how much to plant (per person)

Now let’s see how much of each vegetable you’ll need to plant per person to have enough to last you for an entire year – both consumed fresh and preserved in storage.

This, of course, will depend on many factors such as your growing skills and technique, soil fertility, which vegetables you prefer, and how often you’ll be eating it.

In reality, you won’t exactly know how many vegetables to plant for your family until you’ve gone through several growing seasons. But it’s good to get a sense of what some of the averages are so you can plan more accurately.

I’ve already done all the calculations for you in the spreadsheet.  You identified what you’ll grow in Step 2, the numbers for this step are already in the spreadsheet so you can move to the final step.

This step will clarify how much you’ll need to grow in weight, how much space it will take, and finally how many seeds or transplants you’ll need to source.

–>Action Item: None, put a checkmark for this step and move onto Step 4.

STEP 4: Come up with a precise quantity for how many seeds or transplants you’ll need

Think about how the numbers per person from the last step translate into the size of your family. If you have children, they probably won’t eat as many as an adult. Also, some of your family members won’t like particular vegetables, so don’t just 4x the numbers if you have a family of four.

Make a note of the quantity or weight of seeds and transplants you’ll need so that you can start searching for the suppliers with some exact figures.

For example, suppose you have a family of three adults, and you’re looking to plant potatoes. To calculate how many seed potatoes you’ll need to plant and order you would multiply Seeds/Transplants Needed (Cell F 11) x Family Members = 75 seeds x 3 people = 225 seed potatoes.

–>Action Item: Update Column G [Seed Order Notes (Quantity/Weight)] on the spreadsheet with your notes about the amount of seeds or transplants you’ll need for your crisis garden.

STEP 5: Source the seeds/transplants

Finally, find a source where you’ll buy your required seeds or transplants.

I always recommend that you opt for a local supplier first, as they’ll probably have seeds of varieties suitable for your region and climate. If necessary extend your search nationally or even globally…

As you search for the seeds to order pay special attention to the descriptions of the cultivars or varieties you’re considering. You’ll want to make sure that you’re selecting the best-suited ones for each of the growing seasons detailed above.

To access a list of seed companies where you can browse some seed catalogs, click here. (Note: This growing database is periodically updated, we also accept your recommendations, so if you want to add a reputable supplier click here.)

–>Action Item: Update Column H [Source/Supplier] on the spreadsheet with the info about where you’ll source your seeds or transplants. Additionally add any notes (cost, order date) if you’ve made the purchase.



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