Anyone living in the USA this spring knows our weather has been beyond belief weird this year. Generally you can plant based on the predicted last frost dates for your planting zone and be pretty safe. Only this year there are parts of the nation still watching snow melt on Memorial Day Weekend, and parts of the nation, like Oklahoma, have been as high as 90 on one day and below freezing the next. This can make deciding on when to plant your garden a real challenge.
Once you get it in you also need a game plan for protecting tender plants if the temps do bottom out suddenly, or shoot up to uncomfortable limits quickly.
There are numerous ways to protect from cold temps ranging from throwing an old blanket or sheet over the plants, to misting them with water, smudge pots or wall-0-water or glass cloche or bell jar. How you do it is up to you, just remember if you plant early you do run the chance of a late freeze.
If you would like to use the wall-0-water system, but can’t go the price to purchase them then make your own. It is VERY simple. Fill empty plastic two liter bottles with water and set them in the sunshine around your tender plants to warm up during the day. Then at night that water will expel the heat to your plants helping to protect them. I have used this method with success many times. When the temperature was predicted to really drop I’ve also dropped old sheets over the tops of the plants that were surrounded by my 2 liter water wall and it has worked as a greenhouse to protect the plants even at below freezing temps quite well.
Speaking of green houses. If you are determined to get a jump start on early gardening you can of course run a low hoop house over your garden rows, or use hot boxes or cold frames to get an early start as well.
The only problem with any of these ideas is you need to be certain to remove them once the weather heats up to prevent burning your plants.
Ideally I would love to be a person who is so organized that I plant all my garden by the moon phases. Realistically, life happens and I end up trying to hit it as close as possible.
The idea behind planting by the moon phases is that it has been documented that certain crops do better if they are planted in the light or dark of the moon. Light of the moon for above ground crops, dark of the moon for below ground crops. Okay, so what is considered the light and dark of the moon.
The light of the moon is during the first two quarters of a moon cycle. Meaning preferably close to the full or new moon phases. With root crops being planted just after the full moon for best results.
Another consideration is the astrological sign that works best for your particular plants. Since you can’t easily ask a plant “What’s your sign?” I’ll provide them here.
As would seem logical root crops are basically your earth signs of Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn. While your leafy crops be planted during Cancer, Scorpio and Pices. Flowers thrive better if planted during Gemini, Aquarius, and Libra. With seedy crops like strawberries and nut trees do better if planted during. Aries, Leo and Sagittarius. However, many believe that planting in these last signs, known as the fire signs, will not do well because they represent a barren time. I’ve not experimented with this to see which holds true for me. Perhaps one of you can and get back to me.
there has always been a bit of confusion for me, because some crops, say beets or radishes, are both above and below ground crops. The young greens are good to eat and that part grows above ground, while the main plant you are growing for later consumption is below ground.
Then does it mean plant the seed or plant the transplant? Hmmmmm. Time for a little research.
Sheer logic on the which moon phase of the dual crops would say go with which you want the most of tops, or bottoms on the plants. Or you could compromise and plant right at the full moon and perhaps have lush growth of both.
The when does it apply to planting seeds or putting transplants in the ground took a little more research. Once that was done I found it was BOTH. So if you are starting your seeds whether indoors or out you would plant. Seeds or plants for produce with seeds on the outside of the plant, like strawberries, nuts or blackberries should be planted between the New moon and the First Quarter.
Those that produce with the seeds inside them, like tomatoes, cucumbers etc should be planted between the First Quarter and the Full Moon.
Followed by root or bulb plants going in the ground either as seeds, or plants between the Full Moon and the Third Quarter.
It is suggested you should save the fourth quarter for harvesting to extend the keeping of the produce longer.
Like I said this is the ideal planting schedule. The in real life schedule for me tends to be when I have both the time and the gumption.
I do, however, work hard at companion planting. A few years ago I spent a few weeks putting together an interactive spreadsheet as to what is best to plant near what for best natural plant protection. It also includes what NOT to plant next to each other. This chart has served me well and am very glad I took the time to do it.
I also try to rotate my crops to avoid problems each year as well. But that is not always do able. An example are potatoes and tomatoes. You should never plant either of them in a spot that has been planted the year before with either plant, because they are of the same family and are affected by the same pests. But with the layout of my gardens, shade problems and other considerations I often find I can’t avoid at least some overlap.
I’ve not had any huge problems so far, but then my soil is always being added to in the Lasagna Gardening Method. This type of gardening is much like the gardening method of Ruth Stout or the Back to Eden Gardening Method. So that may have something to do with the lack of major problems. After all in a sense I am rotating the garden soil, just not the plant rotation.
I tend to plant more by what space I have where. Also by what permanent trellis is available.
This year is a prime example. Generally I put the tomato plants in one of the middle rows of the main 24’ x 24’ garden and use tomato cages to try and support them. My tomatoes always outgrow my cages no matter how hard I try and end up creeping on the ground. This is not a good thing. It increases the chances of problems like slugs, snakes, tomato bugs and rotting tomatoes.
Therefore, this year I’ve decided to plant my tomato plants on the far outer edge of the garden where there is a permanent short trellis made from scraps of horse panels. It runs the full 24 foot length of the garden there. My plan is to tie the plants to this trellis in an Espalier fashion. While I won’t get as decorative as you would with fruit trees for this summertime crop I will basically use the same principles for all but two plants that I will put in flower pots to move to the indoors this fall.
Many people do not realize that tomato plants are actually perennial plants, as are pepper plants, but die back each fall when temperatures drop because they are a tropical plant. I am hoping to have our hoop house recovered by fall and will be able to move plants into it to extend our growing season. But that is another project for another day.
Back to planting the tomatoes. According to my companion planting chart the good companions for tomatoes are: alliums (onion, garlic, chives etc), asparagus, basil, bee balm, borage, carrots, celery, chard, horehound, mint, parsley, peas, and thyme.
The same chart also says avoid planting broccoli, corn, cucumber, dill, kohlrabi, and peaches near tomatoes.
I take near to mean up close and personal, as in sharing the same bit of soil for some types of pests, and air space for others.
Based on this I will space the tomato plants to go the 24 foot length of the garden evenly. Then start working on the spaces in between. This is where my pre-set garden areas and family preferences come in.
For some reason I’ve never had any real luck with onions other than Egyptian Walking Onions. These onions can eventually be invasive, so you need to think about where you want to plant them, because they are a perennial plant if you let them have their way. So these I won’t put in the main garden area at that trellis as many plants don’t do well with onions.
I had lost my Egyptian Walking Onions years ago to my geese who had literally rooted out and ate them all. A friend (thanks again Bob) recently gave me several generous starts of these wonderful onions that I can use year round and I want to get them in the ground asap. I love these onions because they are self propogating, and grow year round. I have often harvested them out of the snow. Unless I truly need the bulb I don't pull the onions I simply cut the tops and they grow again, divide and multiply, as well as the little bulbs that spring from the top every year that "plant" themselves wherever they land. Truly a perpetual garden item with very little care.
However, alliums are suggested to companion plant with grapes and since that is a permanent garden some of my Egyptian Walking Onions will be planted in that 24 x 4 foot garden. I’ll plant others elsewhere to insure I never lose my entire crop of them again.
The asparagus bed is on the opposite side of the garden and is where I had most of my tomatoes last year. The permanent trellis on that side is mainly used to tie up the asparagus fronds as I let some of the asparagus go to seeds each year. So no asparagus.
Moving on to basil. Yes I definitely will plant this near the tomatoes. I do every year and both have done excellent as a result. My son and I love fresh pine nut and basil pesto, so I will plant a lot of this fast growing herb in the ground around the base of each plant.
I plan on putting my bee balm and borage near the base of the grapes as well to encourage bees to pollinate my grapes in the years to come. Both are basically self seeders, so they will do well with the other companions to go in this bed. That will pretty well fill the grape bed and remove three “I want to plant” items from my planting list.
Although it is actually getting a little late in the season to do chard I will go ahead and plant it mixed with carrot seeds in a line between the tomato plants. This serves multi-purposes. The carrots will grow underground, not really taking up space from the above the ground crops. The chard will help break the soil “crust” for the carrots. Both benefit not only each other but the tomatoes as well. We also be able to eat both the carrot greens and the chard as time goes on.
Because the mints and horehound can both be very invasive I will be planting those in pots on the outside of the garden framework, but near the trellis. I will also plant my herbs all in pots so they can be brought indoors this fall.
By doing all of the above I’ve made my plan for all those plants in two long narrow strips.
I also discovered a problem when looking at the companion planting chart. I had planned on planting the second row of the garden a Three Sisters row to take advantage of the main sunshine there.
However, with looking at my companion planting chart one of the Three Sisters, corn, is not good for tomatoes. So the second row will now be used for something else and the Three Sisters will be the third row.
Checking my companion planting chart I found I could put my pepper plants on the row and they would do fine between the two now already planned first and third rows.
Continuing on using my companion planting chart and eliminating things that already had a designated area, or for one reason or another I continued to plan out the 24’ x 24’ garden.
I had decided the last time I planted sweet potatoes and they had tried to take over the world that the next time I planted them they were going in the 8’ x 8’ garden and would be kept trimmed to stay IN that garden. So that was decided quickly. I choose from my companion planting chart things like bush beans that would grow up above the sweet potato vines. With that garden being 8’ x 8’ I could let the sweet potato vines pretty much solidly cover the ground and root to form numerous sweet potatoes and not fear having to step into it to harvest the produce from the upright plants because one or all of us could reach the plants if planted properly from the edges fairly easily. Well except for maybe the middle plants, so I’ll put a long time to harvest date plant there.
This only left the 8’ x 24’ garden to decide on. By the time I got to this point it was a matter of “what is left that I want to plant that does well in partial to full shade in the heat of the summer?
Once the garden planning was done it is simply a matter of increasing the soil level where I needed to and getting started planting.
Jan who will next do a post on the actual planting, and adding or soil and trellises in OK