Ordering a Garden

January is seed ordering month for me.

It usually involves sitting down with two or three of my favourite seed catalogues, my garden journal and a cup of hot beverage in front of the fire.

First I plot out what should go where in the coming spring.

I try to rotate crops every year. This helps to combat diseases and pests. It is good to keep in mind that, while different, some plants share the same pests and/or diseases.

It is really surprising how easy it is to forget that beets and swiss chard were developed from the same parent plant, or that cabbages, broccoli and rutabagas all share common foes with radishes and mustard. So I tend to clump similar plants together.

Another thing to keep in mind is the amount of nutrients the plant will take out of the soil. Some plants are heavy feeders, some are light feeders, while others actually put nutrients back into the soil.

I tend to clump similar feeders in the same location. This helps to keep things simple when plotting out a garden.

It can seem like a bit of a juggle, but sometimes the similarities actually help with knowing what should go where. For example, most cabbage family plants tend also to be heavy feeders and legumes like peas and beans fix nitrogen (taken from the air) into the soil.

A rotation for a certain portion of ground should flow from heavy feeders to light feeders to legumes. This allows the soil to continue replenishing its nutrients over the years.

While farming on the prairies, my dad would rotate his field crops so they wouldn’t deplete the soil. He also would leave a field unplanted for a year to allow the weeds to grow. Just before they went to seed he would till them under.

This did a few things. It allowed the soil to “rest”; it added green manure to the soil, and it helped keep the weeds down by not allowing them to reseed themselves.

We have incorporated this practice into our own gardens with success.

Another thing to keep in mind is what varieties have done well in our short cool summer and which ones really didn’t thrive at all. I keep a record, so I don’t end up ordering the same seed variety if it didn’t perform well.

Often this is just a note in the previous year’s seed catalogue, written near the end of summer while things are still fresh in my mind. I then transfer these notes to the new catalogues when they arrive.

Over the years I have been able to keep some of the same varieties growing in the garden. These have become my favourites. And although I tend to order similar amounts and varieties from year to year, I never seem to lose my enjoyment of the task.

Besides, with the cold temperatures, there isn’t much else to do but put more wood on the fire and dream of spring.

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