Gardening on the Brain

Ground Hogs day was yesterday, and I heard Phil didn’t see his shadow. That means spring is around the corner, and although our yard is still coated in ice and snow, I think there is a whiff of spring thaw in the air.

Okay, so it is a very very very faint whiff. But still, a girl can dream of getting dirt under her fingernails and watching plants grow and flourish in her garden. Serendipitously, with my mind now on spring, I received my seed orders.

Sadly, I have a month and a half before I can even start any of my seeds indoor and even longer before the ground will be soft enough to start weeding or planting outside. Winter trimming is not nearly the same kind of fun as playing in the dirt. To help stave off the craving to get planting, I would love to hear how you plan your gardens and pick your seeds.

For me, garden planning gets to be a bit tricky because I have lived in quite a few different growing zones. I start to find a favorite variety of vegetable or fruit only to move and find out that it doesn’t grow well in my new zone (or doesn’t grow at all!). It is heartbreaking to look at seed catalogs and force myself not to circle my old favorites. 

How do I pick new varieties or even pick what to grow? Like most of my hobbies, it starts with a spreadsheet. 

The first spreadsheet makes a list of all plants I wish I could grow. It is usually a huge long list that includes herbs, fruits, vegetables, pollinator-attractors, and nuts. The list is more than I could ever fit in my yard. After the list is finished, the culling begins. 

First criteria for cutting: Will we actually eat this? 

This is where I sit down with my husband and make sure that the plants we grow will actually be consumed. 

For instance, I enjoy a plum on occasion. My husband does not like plums. Can I eat enough plums to warrant a whole tree? Nope! Do I wish I ate more kale? Of course. Will I? Not unless it’s doused in brown sugar or chili powder (though not at the same time). So those two items get cut off the list pretty fast along with quite a few other fruits and vegetables.

Second criteria for cutting: Will it grow here? 

We live in a northern zone, which means there are plenty of things that won’t grow here. We also don’t keep our house warm enough year-round to grow things indoors. Knowing your USDA grow zone and what will and won’t grow in that zone can keep you from being frustrated when certain plants or varieties just won’t grow or overwinter. 

For me, that means no limes, lemons (any citrus really), vanilla beans, or tea plants. It means no paw-paws and no pecans. It means a shorter growing season, so there are plenty of plant varieties that may not survive the late frosts or mature enough before winter sets back in.  

Third criteria for cutting: Do I have room? 

Okay, this step is a little more complicated. This is where I start ranking everything left on the list from must-have to would-like to would-be-nice. Would-be-nice are items that if I don’t grow them, I probably won’t notice. The Must-Haves are the items that I will go out and pick and eat on a regular basis and will be so mad at myself if mid-summer comes and I have none of it growing. 

Must-haves for me are tomatoes, at least two kinds, determinate and indeterminate, peppers, strawberries, blueberries, basil, dill, sage, and parsley. Would-be-nices are things like potatoes (they are honestly so cheap at the store I always debate growing them), Hazelburts (a hazelnut filbert mix that results in delicious nuts), and Haskaps/Honeyberries. Most other things fall in the would-like portion of the list and get ranked as I start planning out garden beds and planting times.

The final list grows a little longer every year, but once I have it cut down to a somewhat manageable length I start picking out varieties and making my schedule of when things need to be started, what kind of light they prefer, mapping out where they will be planted, and tracking when they are planted. 

I’m thinking this year of adding in a yield counter and reviews to make sure I optimize my garden with the best varieties and layouts. That might be overkill, but at the same time, can you imagine the line graphs I could make with that data? Sigh, that is the dream!

Now tell me how you pick what you will grow, plan your gardens, and manage what you have! I am looking forward to lots of tips and tricks. 

3 thoughts on “Gardening on the Brain

  1. Hey Abby! Your blog is awesome. I admit, I don’t garden&am a bit too lazy when it comes to gardening. But, your post intrigued me and I enjoyed reading about your process. I think it’s awesome how you plan your garden. I haven’t heard of anyone using a spreadsheet for garden planning, but I think it’s super cool that you do. Definitely a great idea.

    I also think it’s great how you think about what you would eat, what is feasible for growing, and what you have room for. It’s not just a great strategy, but also efficient too. Definitely a great way to optimize your resources and time.

    I’m guessing you enjoy working with data a lot? 🙂 It’s not my cup of tea, but I think it’s awesome that you do. It’s a great skill.

    Again, kudos to you for your blog posts. They are all great reads and I enjoy them. You are a great writer too. Keep up the wonderful work. You rock, Abby!


  2. Nice to meet someone else who uses a spreadsheet for gardening! Your process is very similar to mine (although luckily I no longer move about) except I have added the “recording the return” and over the past couple of years have begun to narrow the varieties to those that produce best. For instance, I used to grow 6-8 varieties of peas, just because I could, but now I mainly grow “Green Arrow” and “Wando” because they produce the most per linear foot and fit my succession planting schedule best. I’ve quit growing chard, even though its very productive and looks beautiful in my potager, but we just don’t eat it that often. Enjoyed your post very much!


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