That dangerous time of year has come again!
Those of you who garden in a northern climate know what I mean…short days where the sun rises too late and sets too soon; the garden, covered in snow, taunts you with the possibilities of the coming spring; and, in a desperate grab to hang on to sanity you make your plans for the coming growing season, figuring that doing ANYTHING is better than just sitting there bouncing off the walls.
So you do it…that dangerous thing! That thing that all gardeners do to get themselves through the winter…you order *gasp* the SEED CATALOGUES!! – those wondrous, hopeful publications with promises of succulent tomatoes, snappy peas, crisp radishes, tender greens, jewelled beets, heady sweet peas…
Overwhelmed by the myriad of options, you choose one of almost everything (and then spend crazy-making hours trying to shoehorn it all into your available growing space – if you were even able to grow all the seeds in the first place), or nothing, deciding to wait until you see what’s available in the garden centres (where you won’t be able to find that intriguing lemon pear tomato and you’ll end up settling for some ubiquitous red cherry). I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum; I spent hundreds of dollars (yes, I said hundreds) at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange one year, only to have most of the garden keel over during a terrible drought (gardening in Texas is HARD); and I’ve not purchased any seed, preferring, instead, to thickly sow old leftover seed and fill in the gaps with purchased transplants. Neither method was satisfying – one was a waste of time and money, and the other was boring. So, knowing that the best place for me is usually in the middle, I have developed a list to help me keep the interest level high but the spending down.
- Grow only what we like to eat. I’m not a huge fan of squash and, since it needs a fair bit of room, I happily leave it off the garden plan.
- Grow what tastes the best fresh-picked. This means every garden of mine has tomatoes, peas, beans, carrots, and a variety of herbs. Related to this rule is my preference for heirloom varieties since I find they have the best flavor.
- Grow what is expensive and/or difficult to find in the grocery store. For this reason, I always grow cilantro since the supply at my regular grocery store is erratic, and my Texas garden always had Florence fennel (at the grocery store price of $2/bulb, a $4 packet of seeds paid for itself in no time). It’s also one of the reasons why I never grow potatoes (lack of space being another factor).
- Grow at least one thing I’ve never tried growing before. Sometimes this can be so successful, as was the case with fava beans, fennel, and lemon cucumber, that it is added to the list of perpetual favorites.
- Grow as many eye-catching plants as possible. I don’t think kitchen gardens should just be about feeding the stomach – they should also be a feast for the eyes. I always include flowers (edible or not) and colorful leafy greens like purple/red/blue kales, Rainbow chard, and red lettuces. I choose my fruiting plants as much for their decorative appeal as for their taste – a purple and cream striped eggplant paired beautifully with purple basil one year, and the yellow/orange/red/green cherry and pear tomatoes look almost too good to eat (almost!).
A note here about the above list – it is always used in conjunction with my garden’s geographic and cultural restrictions. That means, that with a clay soil, I can’t grow really long carrots – I’m best off choosing a stumpier variety that isn’t as likely to split. I have lots of sun but a short growing season so unless I’m willing to go to extreme measures to grow tomatoes (I’m not), I choose varieties that ripen quickly and can withstand cooler temperatures. I take adavantage of the fact that two sides of the garden are fenced and I grow vining peas on it, rather than bush peas, to make efficient use of horizontal and vertical growing space. I’m aware of the popular bugs and fungii in my neighborhood and choose varieties that are resistant to them.
I love parameters. Just like the “cabin” walls (that I’m bouncing off of right now) protect me from the excesses of winter, my planting choice guidelines protect me from the excesses of my garden lust and the temptations of the seed catalogues. Here’s to spring finding us sane.