Planning Your Garden, Part III: When?
Updated: Apr 2
As the sunshine of spring propels us forward into another growing season, it is time to be thinking through the why, where, and when of this year's garden. Understanding your motivation in creating a garden will give you insight into what you should grow and what your goals will be. For ideas and suggestions about answering the "why?" questions for your garden this year, check out Planning Your Garden, Part I: Why?. Your zone, climate, and the microclimates of your location will determine what you grow and where you plant it: Planning Your Garden, Part II: Where?. If both of those questions have already been answered, it is time to decide when to start planting.
How early you can begin planting will depend upon several factors, but the most important is whether you have a greenhouse, cold frame, or other sheltered space in which you can start your plants. The earliest planting on our homestead is in February in the growing dome, where we plant spring lettuces, Asian greens, and other cold hardy crops (read more about those plantings here). These plants will grow during the spring months and then be used up and replaced with summer vegetables. Even if you don't have a greenhouse available, you can plant cold-hardy greens in a cold frame, window garden, etc., if you have enough bright days and sun exposure. Cold-weather lettuces, radishes, Asian greens, turnips, and peas are our most common midwinter crops on the homestead.
Late Winter/Early Spring
By the end of winter, we have begun planting the summer starts in the growing dome. This means that we can plant starts of plants that will go into the greenhouse beds as well as those that will be transplanted outdoors later in the spring. For the greenhouse beds, we start seeds of hot-weather lettuces and tomatoes directly into the soil or in cell flats to conserve space. Beans can be planted directly into soil (they don't like to be transplanted), and any other greens, herbs, etc., that we are growing in the dome can be started as well.
The starts for outdoors--like tomatoes, melons, cabbages, and onions--will also be planted at the end of March or beginning of April. Because all of our plants are grown from seed, it is essential to give enough time for those plants to be well developed before moving outside, but not so much time that they become root bound. If you don't have a greenhouse available to start outdoor plants, a cold frame or sunny indoor space may work, especially if you have a grow light available. It will be more important in these situations not to start them too early, or they may become leggy (weak and spindly) from lack of sunshine.
In the outdoor garden, cold-hardy peas, alliums, brassicas (like kale and cabbage), and beets can be planted into prepared beds. These will all weather a light frost with ease.
As the weather warms and soil temperature increases, it's time to plant outdoor starts. Plants in the Cucurbita family, including squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and melons don't like to be transplanted--their taproots can be disturbed by the transplanting process, stunting their growth. Because of our short season, we risk transplanting melons and start them in the greenhouse. But squashes and cucumbers are best planted outside after soil temperature is appropriate and all danger of frost is past. Midspring is also the time for starting flint and flour corn, summer herbs, and beans. The transplants of onions that were started in March can be moved to their outside beds. If the weather is consistently warm, tomatoes and melons can be transplanted outside as well. As you plan your garden, take time to look up the last frost date for your area. This will give you a good idea of when to begin planting frost-sensitive outdoor crops.
By summertime, everything should be planted in the homestead garden. The only planting left to be done at this point is replacement seeds for squashes, beans, etc., that failed to germinate or were destroyed by pests. When determining whether to replant, we look at the number of growing days each plant will require and evaluate based on how much time is left in our season. In our location, we can count on hot weather through July and August and often into early September. We occasionally have an early frost in September, but most years we can continue growing through the end of September or even early October.
Fall is primarily a time for harvest, but there are a few crops that get their beginning in the year's waning months. Cold-hardy crops like kale can be planted in outdoor beds, especially if they are planted under high tunnels that will protect them from severe frosts. In the greenhouse, we plant many of the same cold-hardy crops that we planted early in the year: lettuce, beets (for greens), kale, Asian greens, radishes, turnips, etc. Late in the fall, garlic for the following year will be planted outdoors, and shallots will be planted in the greenhouse.
As you learn the land on which you live, you will find crops that suit your seasons. Plan for each part of the year. Make the most of your growing season. Adapt, experiment, and do what works. With determination and perseverance, you will create a resilient and abundant garden.
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