Any gardener will tell you that gardening is oneof the most absorbing and rewardingoccupations you can undertake. Any gardener willalso tell you — probably loudly and at length — thatgardening requires patience, resilience, hard work,and a lot of planning. Paperwork is probably the lastthing you have in mind when you think aboutgrowing your own vegetables. More likely you seeyourself leaning contently on your spade as all sortsof lush, healthy plants shoot up in front of your eyes.The fact of the matter, though, is that gardeningbegins not with seeds and a spade but with paper and apencil.A successful vegetable garden begins with a well-organized plan of your garden space. Drawing a planmay not sound as exciting as getting outdoors andplanting things. But if you don't spend the necessarytime planning what to grow in your garden andwhen and where to plant it, you may spend the rest ofthe growing season correcting the mistakes youmade because you didn't have a plan. It's a lot easier toerase a bed when it's a few lines on a piece of paperthan when it's an expanse of soil and plants.Your plan should include not only the types andquantities of vegetables you're going to grow and howthey'll be positioned in your garden, but alsoplanting dates and approximate dates of harvest.Making a plan may seem like a lot of work to getdone before you even start gardening, but carefulplanning will help you make the best use of yourtime and available space and will result in bigger,higher-quality crops.This chapter discusses all the questions you needto take into account when you're planning yourgarden — the hows, whats, whys, whens, andwherefores. The specific cultural requirements ofeach vegetable are given in detail in Part 2.
THE FIRST DECISION: WHAT TO GROW(AND HOW MUCH)
The first step to planning a successful vegetablegarden is to decide which vegetables to grow. Thismay sound fairly straightforward, but there are a lotof factors involved, and you need to answer somebasic questions: What vegetables do you and yourfamily like? Do you want to eat all your crop fresh, orstore or preserve some of your harvest? Can yougrow the vegetables you like successfully in yourclimate? How much time and energy can you putinto your garden? The first factor to consider ispersonal preference.
What vegetables do you like to eat?
The firstdecision to make in choosing what to grow in yourvegetable garden is simple: What vegetables doyou and your family like to eat? Perhaps you'd love togrow peas because you remember how wonderfulthey tasted fresh out of the garden in your childhood.Or maybe your family's crazy about spinach salad orbroccoli casserole, or you're just plain tired of frozenvegetables.
What are you going to do with it?
How do you planto use your vegetables, and what are you going to dowith the part of your crop that you don't eat as soonas it's harvested? Do you want to freeze, can, dry,store, or make preserves with some of your crop?
How much do you need?
How you plan to use yourvegetables directly affects how much of eachvegetable you want to grow, and will influence yourdecision about the kind of vegetable you're going toplant — all carrots aren't alike, and there arehundreds of different tomato varieties.
Can you grow it?
Not all vegetables growsatisfactorily in ail climates. Some vegetables like ithot; some refuse to grow in hot weather. Somevegetables flourish when it's cold; others just shiverand die. Certain plants go from seed to harvest in acouple of months and will grow almost anywhere inthe United States — green beans and some kinds oflettuce are among these obliging vegetables. Othersare very picky and need a long stretch of warm orcool weather. You have to take the plant's needs intoconsideration before you can make a decision onwhether or not it's a practical choice for your homegarden.
Do you have room for it?
There are plants that arerather like large pets — they're very endearing, butyou just can't live with them because they're toobig. You want to grow vegetables that will give you areasonable amount of produce in the space thatyou have available. Some vegetables — especiallysome vining crops like pumpkins — need a greatdeal of room and give you only low yields, so they'renot a practical choice in a small home garden. And ifyou're growing an indoor container garden, you'll dofine with cabbages in flowerpots, but there's simplyno place you're going to put a healthy watermelonvine or a Jerusalem artichoke.
Is it worth the bother?
Some vegetables requirevery little nurturing, and you can grow them with aminimum of toil. Others require special attentionand need to be babied. Celery and cauliflower, forexample, have to be blanched — blanching is aprocess that deprives the plant (or part of the plant) ofsunlight in order to whiten it and improve its flavor,color, or texture. Before choosing a crop that's goingto need special handling, be sure you really want togive it that much attention. Some crops, too, arebothered a lot by insects or plant diseases — corn isone of them. If you're not willing to deal with these