When we moved to the farm I knew nothing about gardening. I mean nothing! I didn’t know that there were cool season crops and warm season crops. I thought you went out one day, put all the seeds in the ground and waited for the bounty to begin! I bought some books and did a lot of reading. I knew I wanted to grow organically. My first attempt was a little 12 x 12 foot garden – seriously! It was successful enough to whet all of our appetites for a real garden! I went looking for something to help me plan a garden. I wanted a book that would say to me….in March you plant this, and this and this….and then I could turn to April and find out that I needed to plant this and this…..but I found NO SUCH BOOK! I found plenty of books where I could look up each individual plant, read about it and figure out when to plant.
I wanted something simple and easy to use. I also got lots of advice from farmers who have been planting all their lives….the advice went something like this…”Well, little gal, (in a very condescending tone with a smirk!) you jest figure out when you want to eat it, count back the days listed on your seed packet and plant it then”. I am sure there was a great deal of laughing behind my back! Think about it….who wouldn’t like to eat sweet corn on May 1st? But, I can tell you from experience that if you plant it in February you will NOT be eating sweet corn on May 1st! (I counted back on my seed packet – 😳) I offered to pay people for advice but what I often heard was….”I had to learn the hard way and you will too”. I must say that my initial opinion of gardeners wasn’t very nice. But I did learn!
We learned so well that we were the first organic growers at our farmer’s market. We offered a CSA basket to dozens of families. We sold to a local upscale restaurant who loved our food so much they put a note on each white-cloth covered table sending customers directly to us! We provided for all of our fresh eating needs and were able to preserve for most of our winter needs. There is something about serving Thanksgiving supper and knowing that every single thing on that table was the work of your own hands.
Over the years, as I have added new crops and done the research for each one, I have grumbled…I mean….promised to write a book to help newcomers to gardening. I wanted to write what I always needed – something to tell me what to do when, without having to look everything up in a variety of books. Something simple…something so easy to use that someone who had NEVER gardened could pick it up and be successful their first time. Well, I didn’t end up writing a book – I wrote a calendar. A PERPETUAL calendar.
The information in my calendar is based on 15 years of records kept here on our farm, along with some advice from local “old-timers” who were willing to share a bit about the signs to watch for in nature. I have begun to see the signs, cycles and patterns provided by God in nature and to plant accordingly. If we begin to recognize these signs on our own lands and in our own gardens, we can then plan our activities to work in harmony with them. I find that I am then rewarded with abundant harvests and less problems throughout the gardening season.
Now, my planting calendar is a strange calendar…it has no dates. It is a perpetual calendar…. you use it year after year. When you turn to April, for example, there is a list of seeds to start, a list of what you should direct seed into the garden, a list of what to transplant (from seeds you started in a previous month) and what should be ready to harvest from earlier plantings. You will also find out how to make an herbal infusion! There is also an area under each month to keep some of your own notes.
January gives you seed ordering advice with a list of recommended herbs, help in finding Praying Mantis cases to place in your garden for spring, a crop rotation plan and what to be doing inside and outside to prepare for the gardening season! June will help you fight pests, stake tomato plants and make terrific salsa along with the list of what to seed, transplant and harvest that is included in each month. Every month has garden tips and advice from fighting pests to saving seed. There are several of our most popular family recipes throughout this calendar too. I have included recipes using herbs – my Creamy Basil Dressing is one of my favorite recipes of all times!
At the end of the calendar is a list of my favorite seed and garden suppliers along with their phone numbers and websites. Almost everything I grow is open pollinated (so we can save the seed and save money!) and you will find that my resource list reflects this. I have also listed my favorite varieties of veggies and flowers. These are plants that I have grown and tasted and loved! There is also a copy of the page that I use in the greenhouse to record my garden notes.
You should be keeping notes on your gardening efforts – almost like a journal. Be sure to record what you plant and when, make a note on germination times, record where you put it in the garden and finally any pest/disease problems, how it produced and how it tasted. I have eliminated a lot of varieties over the years because we didn’t like the taste or it didn’t produce well. Also keep notes on the weather, temperature, rain, snow, sunshine, you will be surprised what you can learn by looking back. I also make a note when I first see the pests emerge – this gives me an idea of when to be looking for them. I will know to be prepared to fight the “bad guys” before they can multiply to enormous proportions in the garden!
Be sure to make a “map” of your garden each year. This is for your crop rotation plan. If you rotate your crop families, then you will eliminate a lot of pest and disease problems. We’re laying out our garden differently this year and I’ve made a new map – so I will know what I planted where next year.
I use my calendar each month. I can take it to the greenhouse and know exactly what I should be doing. I also keep notes of everything I plant and the date I plant it, when it germinates, when it goes into the garden and how it does. I refer back to other years when something seems to be taking a long time to germinate – I can quickly tell if it is on time or if my seed is bad and I need to replant. I also look for pest information, weather patterns, favorite varieties (should I plant more or less of this?).
You will find that notes are good. I learned to do this from watching my Grandpa. He kept calendars for years…just short notes on each day of weather, pests, and planting times. I believe that my calendar is filling a need. I do a lot of public speaking and when I speak at garden events my printed calendars always sell out. People from other parts of the country are able to purchase online because I added a conversion table for other planting zones. I guess there are many other frustrated gardeners out there looking for a simpler way to garden.
Perhaps more and more people are finding out that simple is good!
My calendar will be available as a PDF download when my soaps go up for sale! I usually print it on paper and put it in sheet protectors in a binder. That way I can keep my garden notes there and refere back year to year. You could also print it on 80 lb. card stock so it lasts. Remember – you don’t throw this calendar away – you use it year after year!
Are you growing a garden this year? With grocery store prices steadily climbing (at least in my area!) it’s a very good plan! What garden questions do you have?