Get Gardening with Farmer Jo: Home Garden Planning

Farmer Jo is coming at you fresh from the field. The field of pure potentiality!

Winter is the time for planning here at the Farm, pouring over seed catalogues and thinking about all that could be - what to grow, learning new techniques, and trailing new and exciting veg.

Farmer Jo loves crop planning and the winter is the time to do that.

Crop Planning with Farmer Jo

Crop planning is the process of planning what and how much you’re going to grow, and at what dates you're going to plant those crops. Here at the Farm that includes a lot of spreadsheets, but for you home gardeners it will look a little different. We do, however, grow our own home garden here at the Farm - a space to plant vegetables that we don’t grow on a commercial scale but want to have access to personally. For this garden we use the very same planning process that you as a home gardener would, so follow along as we go through the process of planning our family garden, and see how you can implement some of our farming techniques to your home growing space.

Four Steps to Planning Your Home Garden

Draw it out: Get out a big piece of paper and draw out your garden space. Maybe it’s a larger garden like the small one we grow for ourselves behind the garage, or maybe it’s a series of pots on a balcony. Big or small, draw it out!

We like to split a larger garden like ours into beds, leaving paths in between, in this case 30” beds with 18” paths. This is what we’d call a 4’ foot center to center bed because it means that from the center of one pathway to the center of the other we have 48”, or 4’. This is the standard bio-intensive market gardener set-up as popularised by J.M Fortier in the book the Market Gardener.

What do you want to grow? Part of the answer to this question comes from thinking about what you want to eat, and part comes from thinking about what is an optimal use of space. If you have limited space you’ll want to focus on crops that you get multiple harvests from, like tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, beans, peas, cucumbers, herbs, greens, multi-cut lettuce, and ground cherries, to name a few favourites. If you have more space maybe you want to consider veggies that you get only a single harvest from (like carrots and potatoes), or plants that take up more space (like brussels sprouts).

Consider planting density: This means how many plants or seeds you need per square foot. It’s very tempting to try and cram as many plants as you can into a space, but it generally leads to lower yield and problems with disease. Remember that those tomato plants are going to quadruple in size over the course of the season so make sure you give everything enough space!

Decide when to plant: Take some time to investigate when your different crops need to be planted. If you are starting from seed should they be planted indoors in February or March, or can they be directly seeded in your garden? If you are planting seedlings, are they frost tolerant or do you need to wait until after all risk of frost has passed. You’ll want to think about succession planting as well - ie. planting faster growing crops repeatedly throughout the season to always have a fresh crop available. This is a great practice for all you small space gardeners - if there is a bare spot, plant something like cilantro or arugula in it!

At the end of this process you’ll have a garden plan that will help to keep you on track all season long. You’ll know what you need to buy in advance, when to start planting, and how to optimise your space and yield.

This week we invite all of you home gardeners to start your garden plan. We’d love to see them so make sure to take a photo and tag us (#ottawafarmfresh) if you post it online.

Are you planning to plant a garden this year? What are you most excited about? We’d love to hear!

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