Mud season is nigh – time to switch out the boots by the back door and, more excitingly, map out your garden! It’s not hard–we promise. Even a rough sketch on a napkin can make the whole thing easier and more rewarding. The basics are simple: put shade-tolerant plants in darker corners, companionable plants near one another, and thirsty crops closer to your spigot. Consider what didn’t work last year, what new plants and arrangements you’d like to try this time, and leave space for a few fun experiments and late-season plantings that you may not anticipate. Here’s a Top 5 list of important considerations, with links and details:
- What do you want, how much do you need, and when do you want it?
- WHAT: Put your staple veggies on your garden map, for sure, but leave a little space for stuff you may not have tried before. Browse the Guini Ridge seeds listings for foods and flowers that are guaranteed to grow in our climate but that might be new to your yard.
- HOW MUCH: If your main goal is to have a food garden, do rough calculations on how much of each crop you expect to use in your kitchen and map things out accordingly. Under the right conditions those 10 tomato plants you want to raise may produce between 80 and 200 pounds of fruit. No problem if pasta and pizza sauce is heavy on your menu, but if tomatoes were left wilting on the vine last year you could use that space for a different veggie this time around, or for a companion flowering plant (see below). UMaine has a great planting chart with spacing and yield-per-plant estimates here.
- WHEN: Use this chart by Johnny’s Seeds and this Seed Planting Calendar by MOFGA to figure which seeds you should start when, both indoors and outdoors. Celery, celeriac, lettuce, parsley, for example, should be started now-ish, inside. Others can wait a bit but if you want, say, fresh swiss chard and carrots all summer, you’ll need to plant them at regular intervals throughout the season. This is called succession planting and Johnny’s Seeds has a great chart that makes the timing on this easy.
- Lay it out for joy and ease
- Whatever gets you into the garden, do that! Wide paths, aromatic herbs and inspiring/edible flowers at the entrances and exits, and places to sit will draw you into your growing space on a daily basis..
- Make it easy on yourself – put shade tolerant crops like bok choi and mesclun mixes in areas that get less sun. Put water-hungry plants like spinach, broccoli, and cucumbers closer to your hose reel.
- Even if your main goal is food, aesthetics and diversity in your garden are important. Consider a few perennials and shrubs that add color and year-round texture to the edges of your growing space.
- Companion Planting
- We’ve got a blog coming soon on this subject, but for now it’s enough to know that companion planting can work magic in your garden. Intersperse your veggie crops with flowers like alyssum (to attract beneficial insects – both pollinators and predators) and blooms like marigolds or nasturtium to repel bugs that would otherwise chomp your hard-earned crops. Storied Maine farmer Will Bonsall wrote this short piece on companion planting for MOFGA detailing how plants like dill and basil next to tomatoes can protect them from pests, sage near cabbage patch reduces cabbage moth infestations, and nasturtiums seem to repel striped cucumber beetles, among other things. Coast of Maine also has a helpful PDF listing which veggies do well when planted near each other.
- Trap Crops
- If you had a lot of trouble with insect damage to your garden last year, you might try trap crops, which are sacrificial veggies planted on the perimeter of your garden to lure troublesome bugs away from your important plantings. Mustards and collards, for example, are preferred by aphids and might pull them away from your tomatoes, lettuce, kale, and cabbage. Blue hubbard squash planted on the perimeter of your garden can attract striped cucumber beetles that would otherwise decimate your cucurbits. And Japanese eggplant can pull potato beetles and flea beetles away from your tomatoes and potatoes. This page has a helpful chart of common trap crops and what they attract.
- Deer trouble
- Waking up to a deer-ravaged garden can leave you crestfallen after working all spring to get things set up. There are as many folk-remedies to keep deer away as there are trees in the state, but consensus has it that the most effective solution is a fence. Other deterrents include bits of deodorant soap strung throughout the plants, and liquid repellents that you can buy prepackaged. UMaine has a condensed list of cures for the deer that plague you.
Planning your garden need not be a strain – make it fun for yourself and feel free to come by the Guini Ridge Farms greenhouse with any questions, big or small, that you may have. We want to help! See you soon.