The group that volunteers at the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry (PAR) garden met today to talk about where to plant which crops in the garden this year. It was great to see everybody, both the old friends and some new friends, too. We had fun, but we also worked. There is a lot to think about in planning the garden!
The needs of the food pantry where we donate the harvested food have a huge effect on our choices of what to grow. One consideration is that the garden needs to produce a lot of good food, since the pantry works hard to feed a whole lot of people. The pantry also can't take any kind of greens because it isn't equipped (refrigerator-wise) to keep greens fresh and un-wilted. The food we grow for donation needs to "keep" pretty well without much pampering.
Once the choices are worked out, there is the step of figuring out where in the garden each crop should be planted. The garden had its first year at the current location in 2006. This means that the crop rotation is beginning to be a bit tricky.
We didn't make any final decisions (our fearless leader has that honor!), but we had copies of drawn layouts from the past several years to look at (so we would know the history of each patch of the garden) and we had blank maps to doodle on.
This drawing shows some of our thoughts:
The yellow writing represents one possible layout and the pink another. We discussed going back to the 2006 layout for this year, but we aren't growing exactly the same crops at this point. For example, back in 2006 we grew corn, but the resulting harvest didn't provide enough food to justify its inclusion in the garden. We also have more trellised area now (but still not enough!), which means the spaces are going to work out a little differently.
Part of the group discussion was about crop rotation: trying to keep plants from any one family from being planted in the same spot within three (or more) years. This is one goal that we just aren't going to be able to meet every year. Some years, the tomato/pepper/potato/eggplant group is going to be planted in a patch too soon, and so is the cucumber/squash/melon group. It's a good thing that we aren't too hung up on perfection!
Another part of the discussion centered around the desire to try some different crops, and maybe some different varieties (to "trial" them without risking a whole harvest). We may save one of the wedges to use as an experimental plot. One of the crops for that might be carrots. I promise this wasn't my idea, even though I have been dissatisfied with my current carrots. We may get together in a couple of weeks to make seed tapes for carrots, and possibly for some other crops (radishes? beets?). The suggestions for things to try were flying!
We briefly discussed the idea of succession planting, but a fuller discussion for that will have to wait for later. The main ideas were that some kind of Southern peas will probably follow the potatoes & onions, and that we might want to have two separate plantings for the tomatoes. I do at my house, and so does Fred (long-time gardener who moved here from Alabama). The later crop sometimes is what makes the tomato-year a success.
In a week or two we will make our pilgrimage to the farm supply store up in Euharlee for seed potatoes, onion sets, and seeds. I already ordered enough Schoon's Hardshell melon seed for the PAR garden, and our fearless leader has stored leftover seeds from last year. Soon, it will be time to turn under the cover crop of Austrian winter peas and to get busy in the garden. Looking forward to it!