Planning for Garden Success

It's cold outside! A blizzard is currently roaring outside my window, the ground is frozen, the wildlife is hunkered down and the chickens would rather stay in the coop until the food is delivered. During a storm such as this, it can be difficult to think ahead to spring and imagine that there is any need to take action towards gardening this early in the game. But it is imperative to start thinking about and planning the garden now if one is to have success. Success is something I certainly desire in the garden this year, so I have taken to the task of developing a week by week plan for our garden. I am doing so with the guidance of this book that Rose bought me two Christmas's ago called: "Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener's Handbook." by Ron Kujawski & Jennifer Kujawski. Last year I didn't use it as fully as I could have, this season I intend to follow its date recommendations quite closely and test for myself how well it works. What I particularly enjoy about this book is that it is laid out in a weekly format, guided by the average last frost date, as opposed to a calendar. This gives it some flexibility and makes it more applicable to each gardener's specific situation. I'll include an affiliate link to the book on Amazon in this article if you would like to get a copy of your own.

"A goal without a plan is just a wish. A plan without action is just a dream."

One of the weaknesses I have had in gardening in years past is the soil getting dry. This is predominately because I have spent some time "dry" gardening with the intent of developing soils with an entirely native microbiome, seeds with genetic strength and the ability to grow in our dry environment, and to avoid using groundwater to irrigate the surface. These are all noble goals, but they haven't shown themselves to be very productive for the most part, that doesn't mean that it can't be but my implementation din't yield what I had hoped. So this year irrigation will be a part of the plan. I will use the water that is drained off of our sprouted chicken fodder as much as I can and the remainder of the water will be made up from the well water... I know, I know, my younger self is SCREAMING right now, but it'll be OK, a mans gotta eat, after-all. A very generous homesteading couple that hails from the neighborhood out by the Poison Spider School gifted me some irrigation tubing a couple summers ago and this year I am going to use that to lay out some irrigation lines in the garden, running to some sprinkler heads. I have always used garden center sprinkler heads, but I would like to get some "wobbler" sprinkler heads this year, these yield an even and gentle coverage of an area, and from my understanding don't require as high of line pressure to operate effectively. The idea I have here is that I would like watering to be as simple as hooking the hose up to one connection and turning the spigot on. I would rather not have to move the sprinkler around the main garden as we did last year, if I can manage to create three "zones" to cover the main garden, the hoop-house garden and the chicken compost yard, that would be ideal. Given the limited resources I can throw at this project this year, if I can only cover just the main garden area, I'll call that a good success for this year.

Another thing my younger self did to stick to his guns was to always direct sow all of my seed. I did this with the notion of never disrupting a taproot. Also as a way of ensuring that the soil bacteria and fungi that attached themselves to the plant were given a head start on forming a relationship with that seed, as opposed to transplanting where the species of soil life in the pot are undoubtedly of different composition than that of the native soil and an adjustment period is needed for the root biome. I still plan to direct sow a great number of my crops this year but I am also doing a bit of cloning and indoor sowing for transplants. I of course can't change the biotic composition of my soil mix to entirely match the native soil with any reasonable accuracy, but I can do something about that taproot issue. I have found what I feel is an effective solution for dealing with the taproot problem. You may have heard of a product called a "Smart Pot," these are essentially a fabric growing container that allows the soil to breath and respirate, causing the roots to air prune as they reach the edges of the medium and forming a more natural and healthy root system. Fabric pots are also much more difficult to over-water. Compare this to a plastic container where roots will begin to circle in the space between the soil and the plastic, eventually choking themselves out and killing the plant if it is not transplanted or given a root trimming. These fabric pots are, in my opinion, the only way to grow a potted plant. Well if you have looked at smart pots, one disadvantage they carry is in size, fabric pots are usually sold for larger plants, and when you are starting a large number of plants for later transplant, space is a real premium. Most growers turn to 72, 98, or 120 cell plastic liners designed to fit into a standard 10x20 nursery tray. These solve that space issue but still allow for root circling if left in the tray too long, they typically require a looser soil to prevent over watering but also require more frequent watering to prevent them from drying out. What I have found is these little fabric bags sold for starting tree seeds in a nursery setting, I buy them in packages containing 500 bags and when filled, I can fit 117 directly in a 10x20 tray. The breathability of the container allows me to make a soil mix based on homemade compost and native soil which saves money and adapts the seed to more localized conditions to some degree. These bags are biodegradable and can be placed directly in the ground upon transplant, reducing transplant shock and labor time at transplant. One disadvantage to these is how long it takes to fill them, with plastic tray liners you can scoop your mix onto the tray, level it and scrape away the excess, these will require individual filling or a jig of some sort. If you figure out an effective jig, comment please, I would love to see your solution! Anyways, I will include a link to this product as well if you'd like to see what I'm talking about or purchase some for yourself.

What are your garden plans this year? What do you plan to grow? Do you have any garden techniques that are particularly helpful or productive for you?

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