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Most people wouldn’t consider the dark days of winter to be the best time to plan a garden, when wind howls outside the window and the sun seems to set just a few hours after lunchtime, but it’s actually the perfect time to do so. When one is curled up with blankets and cushions, braced against the depressing chill and long nights, thinking about all the plants that can be grown in just a couple of short months can be incredibly uplifting and inspiring.

What You’ll Need

Making a plan for this spring’s garden requires only a few handy items:

  • A notebook and pen
  • Seed catalogs (either viewed online, or via printed copies that you can order from seed companies)
  • A hot cup of something scrumptious
  • A comfy seat full of blankets, pillows, maybe an animal companion or three

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Questions to Ask Yourself

When people first get into food gardening, there’s a tendency to try to grow as much as they possibly can. People wear themselves out planting 50 different species, trying to keep weeds down, fretting when plants don’t grow the way they’d hoped, etc, and that’s okay: it’s how we learn. It’s often only through trial and error that we can determine what grows best in our space, and more importantly, what we like to grow the most.

Related link: Open Farm’s community-created guides help you learn to grow anything

When you’re taking notes, two of the most important questions to ask yourself are:

  • What do I like to eat the most?
  • What grew best in my garden?

If your garden space is ideally suited to growing kale and collard greens, but you hate them with a passion and would rather stuff your face with tomatoes all day, then that’s something to consider for your upcoming garden. You don’t have to grow things that you don’t like just because you think that you “should”. Why invest time and energy into growing food that you despise? You’re not going to enjoy the process, and you certainly won’t enjoy the results, right? So, which vegetables and herbs do you enjoy the most? Do you like fresh green beans? Cucumbers? Jalapeno peppers? Make a list of the vegetables that you like best so you can focus on those.

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Once you have that list completed, think about what thrived in your garden, and what failed miserably. This is a good time to take stock of what did or did not work, and why. If your space is really sunny, your lettuce might have wilted and scorched, but your peppers may have thrived. Did cabbage moths decimate the kale you tried to grow? Were your root vegetables gnarled and stunted? Write down what grew best, where it was grown in your space, and what type of soil was used. An Excel spreadsheet is great for these kinds of notes, especially since you can add in columns or type as much as you like, but you can also buy gardening journals that can guide you along on your journey.

*Here’s a tip for your next gardening project: keep very detailed notes about everything you plant. This is a vital record that you can refer to in the future so you can sort out whether you keep butting up against the same issues year after year. Write down how often you watered your plants, what the weather was like, if you added any soil amendments (like compost or bone meal), when buds first appeared, and when you first harvested. The more detail, the better.

After you’ve created your thrive and fail list, and your liked and disliked notes, you can make a handy little Venn diagram to help you get a better perspective of what overlapped.

Gardening-Venn-DiagramImage by the author 

Expanding Upon What Works

Once you’ve determined that magical spot in the Venn diagram of what works and what you like best, it’s time to expand your repertoire. Biodiversity is wonderful, and it’s great to avoid monoculture gardens by growing several varieties of related plants instead of just fifty of the same vegetable. Besides, exploring new veggies and herbs is a great way to add variety to our plates and palates, and you may discover some new favorites by branching out of your comfort zone.

Related link: DIY – plant a personal garden in a small urban space

Did you know that you can grow cucumbers that are roughly the same size and color as lemons, with crisp, melon-like flesh? Or that heirloom tomatoes come in orange, purple, and zebra striped? Have you tried tomatillos or rapini? What about purslane? Scour through those seed catalogs and websites and try something new next season—just stick to the plant families that you like best and discover some fabulous new foods to love.

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Trading Spaces

Some friends of mine have bemoaned the fact that their gardens just aren’t right for growing the types of food they like best, but there are a few good ways to combat this problem. One option is to share yard space with another person who loves the types of vegetables that grow well for you, and whose garden is ideal for growing the things you like best. That way, you can tend plants in each other’s yards and share the resulting bounty. Alternatively, you can accept the fact that your favorite plant just won’t grow well in your space, focus your attention on growing other things that you like, and just buy that all-time fave from a local farmer’s market. It just isn’t worth the time, effort, and disappointment to slave over plants that simply won’t flourish. Work with what you have, not what you wish you had, and supplement your own garden with other sources.

Enjoy your gardening daydreams: you’ll be able to make them a reality soon.