It’s that time of year when my thoughts are filled with next year’s potager. At my age thoughts come and go, so it’s best to get them down on paper. You may recall that last year I did an extended version of my planning map inspired by the handsome gardener Huw Richards. If you haven’t watched any of his gardening videos, give it a go! However, instead of monthly maps as he suggested, I did one for every two months. It was an interesting process, and was a pleasant way to spend some winter afternoons, but I found that I didn’t really use them much beyond the first one, the crucial one. I think what will work best for me is a “March-May” map because most of what is planted early doesn’t come out in mass until June or July. Focus is on the front (east) half of the potager, which will be mostly food crops again this coming year.
The initial spring planting map is essential for several reasons, so I’ll be spending quality time getting it just right. First of all, the beds that are already filled or have areas planted are marked. The strawberries in 2b and 2e and 7a and the bunching onions in the center of 7d and there now and will stay there the entire growing season. The garlic that was planted late October in the center of 2d, and in 3a, b, and c will be there throughout spring into early July. There are also some beds holding over-wintered crops, like the carrots and leeks in the photo below, taken in March. I pencil those in, knowing that most likely they will be harvested and empty by planting time, but if I don’t need the planting space until April, they can stay until I need them in the kitchen. The space that is left is available for spring planting.
Next, there’s a list of all the food crops I want to grow this year. The ones that can be planted in early spring are put on a list for planting first (pak choy, radishes, onion sets, onions, lettuces, chard, spinach, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, snow peas, peas, kale, fava beans, etc.) These are all the easy crops, not too fussy about where they grow or who their neighbors are. Most of these will be harvested early and followed by something else that likes warmer weather, and that brings us to the reason mapping is important. Many of these early crops actually go onto the map last!
I begin with last year’s map so I can see where crucial crops like (1) tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and group (2) squashes, melons, pumpkins, and cucumbers grew. I used to be able to remember, but now I find the years kind of blend together, so relying on the map is a much smarter method. A good gardener knows these plant families should not go in the same space the following year to help prevent diseases. Nothing in group 1 can be in any space where anyone from group 1 grew last year, and the same for the members of group (2). In a very large garden, this is not a big problem but in a small garden like mine it can be frustrating, and since only the front half of the potager will be in food crops this year, space is at a premium. So first I block in the spaces for group 1 plants. I’ve already decided how many tomatoes of each variety I’ll be growing, and the same with peppers. Their numbers are greatly reduced from former years, and I’ve decided to skip potatoes entirely in favor of more flowers.
Next, the two obelisks I built last year will be moved from 3b and 6b to the centers of 3d and 3e because they will have cucumbers and melons growing on them again and those are “safe” locations since no cucurbits (group 2 members) grew there last year. Finding “safe” spots for summer squash, and more melons took a while longer because I grew so many winter squashes and pumpkins last year. Once their locations are set, the hard part is done!
Now the early crops can go in, but where each one goes depends on their timing. Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower go in as transplants, but need their space largely through this March-May map so they get plotted next. However, the space between them can be filled with pak choy or spinach that will come out as the cole crops expand. Fava beans also take longer, but I’ve learned that if I leave plants out in each row, spaced 2′ apart, pepper plants can go into those spaces once the danger of frost is passed. By the time the peppers need more space, the favas are coming out. The number of varieties and the number of each variety is greatly reduced this year. We just don’t eat pecks of peppers, even if they are pickled, and as long as I have six each of my favorite “Fehr Ozon,” “Green Apple,” and a couple of green bell peppers and early jalapenas that’s all we’ll need.
In an area that is “safe” for tomatoes, onion sets or plants can fill the bed. If some are harvested as green onions, strategically to make space for tomato plants, that works great and as the tomatoes spread additional onions can be pulled. The onions also seem to help deter pests. This also works with summer squash. We love Baby Napa Cabbage (from Renee’s Seeds) and they seem to mature at staggered times even when planted all at once, so as they are harvested, other transplants of tomatoes can go in. I don’t need to can any tomatoes of any kind this year as the shelves are full of diced, juiced, sauced, salsa, etc. so only those we eat fresh go in. One “Juliet,” one “Sun Sugar,” one “Chef Choice Orange,” two “Polbig,” two “Yaquii” and maybe one large slicer to come on after the “Polbig.” The “Juliet” and “Sun Sugar” will go in pots (different pots with new soil) on the Lady Cottage posts again this year. And, I resolve that any unsold tomato and pepper plants left from the garden club plant sale WILL NOT even come home with me. I’ll drop them off at the food bank to avoid the temptation of planting them all like I did last year!!
Peas are one of my favorite crops. I only grow “Green Arrow” now, after trialing many, many varieties over the years. They grow on pea fence down the center of 8 beds in four succession plantings. A crop planted 3/3 comes out 6/21, which can easily be followed with cucumbers or “Dragon Tongue” beans to climb the pea fence. A crop planted 4/24 came out 7/6, so the fence can be pulled and leeks, parsnips or salsify, or succession crops of beans, cipollini, or carrots can go in.
Finding space for shallots is next. I once thought they could be tucked in between other plants here and there, but this has to be done carefully because many plants want lots more water than shallots can tolerate. Since they are a valuable crop to me, I give shallots and cipollini their own spaces where the amount of water can be controlled.
The beloved “Royal Burgundy” beans that can be planted in late April while the soil is still wet and cold are essential. Last year, the beans went into the space between over-wintered spinach rows and as the beans grew, the spinach was harvested. That worked out very well so I’ll likely do it again. Many varieties of lettuces are grown in the potager, but most of them are tucked here and there in the interior border between edible flowers, or around cabbage and broccoli for early harvest.
Beets, kohlrabi, and carrots go on the map next. D loves kohlrabi so I try to have lots of small succession plantings of those and carrots. They can be planted in rows, blocks, or just a few here and there in various beds. One area that was garlic earlier will also be planted in carrots for over-wintering. He also loves pickled beets, but I canned so many this year that I just won’t need to can any next year. I’ll just do a few for roasting. Surprisingly there is still room for some fun things like Italian dandelions and frisee endives, and the beneficial calendulas and nasturtiums that get tucked in near summer squashes to add color and attract pollinators.
The metal trellises will be used in spring for growing flowering sweet peas and snow peas, and extra regular peas so I can use the foliage in early spring bouquets. I have some old “purple” flowered and “blue podded” pea seed that we didn’t really enjoy as “food crops” that should be perfect filler material. I’m still debating whether to move the trellises from the east-west path, which I prefer, to the north-south path, which is better for crop rotation. I don’t have to decide until it’s time to plant the snow peas and flowering sweet peas, so that gives me until March to debate the matter.
Maybe this has been helpful, maybe not. Personally, I find that the better I plan the garden, the better it produces and the easier it is to manage, especially when things get hectic. I suspect that when the rest of the seed catalogs arrive, there may be some revisions! And I will do the second map, which will be June-frost. That will cover varieties planted when the garlic and shallots that come out in early July to be followed by winter squashes and pumpkins, French Horticultural beans or late “Wando” peas; refining the succession plantings for the rest of the growing season, and planning for the overwinter crops. Gosh, this is fun!