The Smart Garden: Plant with Purpose

When I began vegetable gardening ten years ago, my fascination and curiosity in learning how to grow as many different plants as possible took control over execution. My first garden was relatively small but extremely overcrowded. My lack of experience didn’t offer me the foresight of how large each plant would grow. As time went on, my garden expanded; and although I was learning about different plants, I now had the problem of too much produce that I just couldn’t eat and had trouble giving away.

Looking back, I can see that although my garden was large and full, I was not putting the right kind of thought into it. Now, my method is more streamlined and with real purpose. I have what I like to call “the smart garden” and here are some ways that helped me achieve it.

Plant What You Want To Eat

The first and perhaps most important step is only to plant what you want to eat. The ultimate goal of any garden is the ability to supply yourself with food that’s more nutritious, fresher, and less expensive than what’s available at the grocery store. Sure, it’s fun to try growing all sorts of different varieties of plants, but if you don’t like to eat what you’re growing, then you will probably have a lot of waste.

When introducing new plants to your palate, be sure to start with just a couple at first. If you end up enjoying their flavors, then you can plant more the following year. Filling your garden with plants you like to eat is a more joyful experience with less waste.

Plan Your Garden Space

You don’t need a lot of space to grow a great garden. These last few years, my garden has become deliberately and strategically smaller, but I am using my space more productively and my hard work and time are better focused.

Depending on your gardening area, you may want to plant in raised beds or start a small container garden. Creating a smarter garden does take a fair amount of research and planning to be executed properly. Use a garden planning journal to map out the entire season roughly. Don’t forget to record how the growing season went so that you can learn from your successes as well as your setbacks for next year.

Plant Along With The Seasons

Another important step is to plant along with the seasons and stagger your plantings to create what I like to call the perpetual harvest. When it came to my previous gardens, I would just plant everything at once and just have one big harvest. This was a highly inefficient method and led to an overabundance of harvested produce in a short time period.

Planting along with the seasonal weather patterns will help to ensure a steady harvest of different plants all season long. For example, when the ground can be worked in early spring, and the nighttime temperatures are staying above 50°F, start planting cold season crops like radishes and broccoli. If there are nights during this period where the temperature drops into the 40s, protect the crops with row covers. Later as the soil and air begin to warm, begin planting warm season crops like tomatoes and peppers. The cold weather crops will be reaching their end just as the warm weather plants are starting to flower and fruit and will continue to yield throughout the summer and fall. A few weeks before cooler fall temperatures are expected to arrive, plant more cold season crops to extend the garden’s productivity up to winter. Researching each type of plant and carefully planning the season from beginning to end will increase your garden’s overall productivity.

Ways to Preserve Your Produce

Finally, there are several ways to preserve your garden’s bounty for the year to come. Canning is the most effective way to store vegetables free from microbial decay for 1-5 years (depending on the crop) and to maintain maximum freshness. There are many different recipes and techniques for canning and pickling, so search online or ask someone with experience to find the best method for you.

Some of the harvest, like sweet corn and green beans, can even be frozen in plastic freezer or food saver bags, both cooked and uncooked. Freezing is by far the easiest method of preservation, but it only works for about a year before freezer burn diminishes the food’s quality. Onions can also be preserved for nearly a year in a cool, dry place after utilizing a process of drying and curing to remove the majority of the moisture.

You can also process a portion of the harvest into delicious items like salsas, sauces, and soups. Simply prepare them as if you were going to eat them fresh and then follow the same canning process used for storing raw or partially cooked vegetables.

Growing your food is hard work, and it will take dedication. But for me, changing my approach made a world of difference. I changed my plot from being just a garden to being a smart garden– a highly productive, food-bearing machine!

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