Planning our seasons plantings - organizing the beds

It's cold outside. And grey. And misty - that "not quite rain but certainly not dry" type of day.

And I'm thinking of Spring and Summer. I can't wait. It's a tough wait between now (January) and late February or March when we can begin planting our earliest crops.

It is the right time, however, to make plans for the upcoming year, both seasons that are on the way. We'll have many of our beds planted for early and late Spring stuff. The planning for those will include estimating when those crops will come out to get the Summer stuff in on time. I wouldn't want to make it sound like we are overly stressed about it - far from it - but it does take some coordination.

A big part of planning and planting each year includes looking back to last year. What worked well in which parts of the garden? What did we use the most of? What did we have too much or too little of? What can we do to maximize what we get from out back and minimize what we have to buy elsewhere? With our garden, and the intent to also have it as our backyard paradise to relax and enjoy like any other landscape, we also keep in mind how it all looks and how the various plants will work together.

A few of our thoughts and lessons from last year:

Corn, while fun to grow, takes up way too much room for what it actually yields. We might plant a few plants here and there for the visual appeal and, perhaps like last year, to let pole beans grow up the stalks, but it isn't really something that we are better off growing than getting at the farmers market.

Okra - we love it. Though I like it fried (I'm southern), stewed with tomatoes, or as part of the basis for gumbo, I really like it raw. We both do. If you've never tried it, fresh off the plant you need to. Forget the texture and viscous nature of okra that so many people dislike. Off the plant it's crunchy. Really crunch. Okra and cherry tomatoes are our snacks while working or relaxing out back. As the summer progresses, however, the plants really push out these guys. So much so that missing a day of picking them and they become long, fiberous and woody - too much so to eat. So the 8 or 10 plants we've always grown are too much, by a long shot. This past year we grew five, this year it will be three. More space for other stuff and plenty for our needs.

Fennel - Joey has been on a big fennel kick with his cooking over the past year or so. We messed around with planting a bit of it last year and it grew well. But it was just a few (four) plants. Thats enough for a few (four!) uses in any type of recipe. It's a good looking plant and will be found throughout our garden this year!

Actually we'll be adding a lot of "flavor" to the garden, increasing the amount of most of the herbs we use all the time -> cilantro, parsley (a few varieties). We had a patch of each (about 3' x 3' from scattered seeds) this past year. We used a lot of it but could always use a bit more. We'll also keep a large variety of basil, love it and it's also such a beautiful plant.

Onions! Almost any recipe you find includes onions in some form. We use a lot of them - and they are so easy to grow. Last year was the first year we really planted more than just a few. We planted one full bed and a half bed of them, this year we'll have three beds overall with a few more in "specialty beds" or beds we are going to put together that have all or most of the components of some of our favorite foods and recipes (SEE NEXT BLOG POST - think salsa, kimchi!). We have seeds and starters for white and red onions, scallions, asian scallions, chives, garlic chives, a couple leek varieties and garlic.

Tomatoes. We had 25 plants last year - all kinds, shapes, colors and sizes. We are going to ...gulp....I can't believe I'm saying this....going to scale that back. I think. If I can because I LOVE them, but we will. Down to probably 15 plants. We'll definitely have variety, from the cherries to munch on in the garden (and make sauce with - it's a bit tedious prepping them - but cherry tomato sauce is magnificently sweet), big ones for sandwiches, and lots of others for cooking, salads, etc.

Beans - for the past two years we've been adding a lot of various beans in the garden. It's actually something I didn't grow up growing - none of my local family did that I can think of. But we love them and they are a great food to have all summer long on the table. Chinese long beans are a favorite, as are pole beans and green beans. Love them cooked, blanched in salad, or raw right off the vine. We likely won't grow crowder beans or black-eyes peas again this year. You just don't get much for the space they take up. And early spring we'll do some cooler weather varieties like snow peas, snap beans and those Chinese long beans.

We'll keep our tradition of hot peppers of all types. Love them, the heat, plus we dry a lot of them for various uses year-round. In addition to fresh during the season, we mike our own dried cayenne flakes for the spice rack, infused hot vinegars, hot sauce, and this year we tried fermented asian style hot pepper paste - and it turned out great!

So over the next week or two we'll be arranging, rearranging and deciding exactly what will go in the garden, where it will go, and when most everything will start! Of course we'll leave a bit of "free" space - those early spring trips to the farmers market often yeild some really cool plants to try out.

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