Gardening » Vegetable Gardening

A Mid-Winter Dream: Garden Planning under Three Feet of Snow

It’s the dead of winter, and Danielle French is thinking about soil, seeds and barbecues.

This is the time of year the owner of South Pond Farms starts planning the events and menus she’ll be offering when summer finally comes.

When I moved to this farm Southern Ontario over ten years ago, I never imagined I would turn so much of the land over to growing vegetables and flowers to offer to others. Today, it’s the core of what I do.

Preparing summer and fall menus, means planning the gardens when the snow is thick and deep. I look out the window at endless white, and contemplate what I need to harvest every month through the summer in order to feed our guests. I also provide flowers for many of the brides who choose to get married here. Whether you’re preparing for a special event in the summer, or simply want to decorate your table every day with fresh flowers and feed yourself with garden-fresh produce, now is the time to get planning! The good news is, you don’t need a farm to have a beautiful garden that will give you vegetables, herbs and flowers all summer and late into the fall.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, tastes better than garden-fresh! (New Vintage Media)

My first garden plan was based on things my grandparents might have planted and what my family likes to eat. I started with heirloom varieties and heritage seeds. At the top of my wish list were heirloom tomatoes. I researched where to buy the seeds and I bought some trays with peat pellets and planted a bunch of seeds in a sunny window. But, I went a little hog wild, started way too many seeds for the space I had, and ended up giving many away. Naturally, the size of the plot influences what can be grown. Let’s say you love squash but only have a small area, you might have to settle for buying squash from a market and growing something that doesn’t spread all over the land – as is the way of the squash!

When I first considered growing vegetables, I read about intensive gardening and was intrigued. Even though I had a lot of land that I could turn into garden plots, the idea of using the entire surface of each of my beds appealed to me. I would plant lettuce and as I cut, sowing new seeds in the bare spots. I’ve tried different things over the years – I tried planting in squares instead of rows – but it comes down to evaluating how much time you have, because besides the fun part of planning and planting, weeding is vital, and it’s the part most gardeners despise and ignore.

South Pond Farms

A layer of straw helps suppress the weeds around a variety of lettuces: red oak, butter crunch, white Paris cos and speckled. (South Pond Farms)

Garden maintenance, such as trimming, deadheading, pruning, digging up, weeding, and re-planting should all be part of your initial plan. Pulling weeds often, instead of waiting until they’ve taken over, will keep nutrients in the soil where they belong and keep your garden plants happy and healthy. Try to think of weeding as therapy or meditation; other than the occasional curse, it’s quiet and contemplative.

Gardening is not difficult, but it does require a bit of planning. Here are my tips to get you started!

  • Keep a notebook: what and where will you grow? Map out the size, shape, and look you’d like the garden to have.
  • Start with a plot of land that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day. A plot of land to which you can easily provide water if needed and where the soil is good or you can improve the soil as needed. It can have any shape you wish it to have. Square or rectangular or maybe you have a strip along the front of your house or simply have some pots on a patio. Sunlight, soil, and water are the critical things. You will want to add some nutrients such as compost and manure, either homemade or store-bought.
  • Now you need to decide what you want to grow; start making a list of what you like. That’s the hard part, and it’s the one thing I still have difficulty with. There are just so many varieties of beautiful vegetables, flowers and herbs to choose from and I want them all! I always buy too many seeds and realize too late I can’t grow everything I want.
  • Next up: timing – what will be ready for harvest when? As soon as the ground can be worked, I sow spinach, salad greens and spring onions directly in the soil; they are the first crops that give me so much pleasure. I can eat these things every day when they are in season. Peas and early beets are next and then everything else seems to come all at once with the root vegetables, winter squash and tomatoes picking up the rear. I start tomatoes and some flower varieties indoors; the rest I like to sow directly in the soil when the time comes.
  • Take some time to read over your notes and mull over what will give you the most enjoyment and the least amount of stress. Do you have time to plant seeds or start them indoors or will buying established seedlings be the better route? There are some things, such as herbs, that I find hard to start from seed, and as long as there are pros growing them in pots to purchase in the spring, I’ll go that route.

The idea of growing food and flowers is romantic and can be so rewarding. It also helps with the grocery bills and delivers the best nutrients from the food we eat. A delicious plate of food that you have grown or a basket of homegrown produce given to a neighbour is such a joy. It really doesn’t get much better than that.