Lizzi Brosseau in her garden plot after weeding and amending, but before doing her garden plan.
By Lizzi Brosseau
Garden Planning for My First Time, Ever
Garden planning is one of the most exciting times of the year for gardeners. Or so I’ve heard. I wouldn’t actually know from experience, because although I’m the Executive Producer of Modern Gardener, I don’t actually garden myself!
But over the last two years that I’ve been a part of Modern Gardener, I’ve become so inspired by the gardeners and organizations we’ve worked with. Their love for gardening is infectious! So I’ve decided that I want to try my own hand at gardening this year.
I’ve rented a community garden plot to put what I’ve learned while working on Modern Gardener into practice. I’d like to share my experience with you as I try gardening for the first time.
Lizzi's garden plot before implementing her garden planning.
Because I don’t have a yard of my own, I’ve rented a garden plot from our local community garden organization, Wasatch Community Gardens (WCG). They have many garden locations, and I applied to one that's close to my home so that it's easy to get to and from my garden.
To get the season started, I first had to weed my 4’x20’ plot by May 1st. After doing that, I amended my soil with compost, humic acid, and blood meal provided by WCG. (They also provide the drip irrigation system, tools, wheelbarrows, and even some seeds!) I have to keep my plot tidy throughout the season so that weeds and pests don’t spread to other plots in the garden.
Garden Planning Inspiration From Our Kitchen Pantry
Now that my plot is weed-free and full of healthy soil, I’ve been planning what I’ll grow. In our video with Fred Montague about garden planning, he suggests that you grow what you’ll want to eat. I love this advice because nothing motivates me more than the promise of food. So far, garden planning has been just as fun as looking at a menu at a restaurant.
So what do I and my family love to eat? Anything and everything! But my garden plot is not very big, and I don’t want to overwhelm myself. My main criteria for choosing what to plant is to plant food that can be preserved and eaten throughout the winter. We hate to see good food go to waste at our house, so the option for preservation is important.
Tomatoes: Where Many Vegetable Gardeners Start Their Garden Plan
Like most vegetable gardeners, I am very excited about the tomatoes in my garden planning. So what varieties are we going to try? I’ve made this decision on the advice from our gardening experts we’ve worked with over the years.
While recently shooting a video about growing your best tomatoes, our expert James Loomis, Director of the Green Team Farm for Wasatch Community Gardens, mentioned that Brandywine tomatoes are considered the standard by which all other slicing tomatoes are compared. Taking that message to heart, we purchased a Pink Brandywine seedling for slicing and salsa.
My family also really loves tomato sauce. It would be impossible for us to have too much tomato sauce/paste/soup in our home! I’ve heard from gardeners we’ve worked with that San Marzano are excellent tomatoes for canning because of their meaty flesh, small seeds, and flavor. I purchased a couple of San Marzano seedlings, in case one doesn’t do so well. Lastly, we couldn’t help ourselves and got a Sungold Select cherry tomato seedling. Our little toddler especially loves cherry tomatoes and we want to encourage her love of fresh food!
We love cucumbers but we especially love pickles, so we got a cucumber seedling that should be good for both fresh eating and preserving, a Northern Pickling cucumber. We’ve also gotten seedlings for cantaloupe and watermelon for fresh eating and pickling too!
To help me understand how much space my cucurbits will need, I’ve researched spacing needs for all my plants. After putting all my seedlings into my plan and accounting for their spacing needs, I was a little stressed out to see how much space my cucurbits and squash will take! I realize that I need to trellis where I can, and I think that we’ll definitely get an A-frame trellis for the cucumbers. This is where we’ll start our trellising journey, and I’ll report on how it all goes in a future post!
When I got a garden plot I originally said that I wouldn’t grow any squash because of what prolific producers they are. It somehow seems that every summer a few bags of zucchini mysteriously find their way into our kitchen, whether we wanted them there or not. (At Modern Gardener we joke that only one person in Utah needs to grow zucchini for the rest of us. You can only make so much zucchini bread!)
However, we do really love butternut and spaghetti squash, and I want to experiment more with pumpkin pie baking. Since winter squash store well through the winter, we have gotten seedlings for those three gourds.
Garden Planning With Traditional Methods
To wrap up my vegetable garden, I’ve also gotten onion and basil seedlings, and am going to try planting ambrosia corn and snap peas from seed. In our video on companion planting, we learned about the “Three Sisters” method of garden planning. Corn, beans, and squash are planted next to each other because they work together in beneficial ways—the corn providing a trellis for the beans, the beans add nitrogen to the soil, and the large squash leaves provide ground cover and shade, which helps prevent water from evaporating as quickly and suppresses weeds.
I want to try two elements of this method by planting corn with legumes next to them, but instead of planting squash nearby we'll plant tomatoes. The plan is that my corn will provide some shaded relief to my tomatoes during those hot afternoon hours, while the peas will boost soil nitrogen levels. So it's a modified "Three Sisters" method that I'll call the "Two Sisters and Their Cat" method because the tomatoes will benefit from the corn and peas ("The Sisters"), but it's unclear what the tomato (or, "The Cat") gives back...
I’ll plant the corn on the west side of the plot with peas east of the corn, and tomatoes east of the peas. I’m hoping this will provide my tomatoes two benefits: extra nitrogen from the peas, and shade in the evening from the corn stalks, saving my tomatoes from intense evening heat. I’m excited to report on how it all works!
In my research for Modern Gardener, I’ve stumbled across plant dyeing. I’ve become obsessed with YouTube videos about growing your own plants for plant dyes. I’ve always been fascinated by fiber arts, so I decided to incorporate this project into my garden plan!
I’ve purchased Japanese Indigo and Dyer’s Chamomile seedlings in the hope that I can make beautiful blue and gold plant-dyed linens this summer. It might not turn out how I think it will, but it’s about the journey, right?
One of the most important pieces of advice I've gotten from gardeners I've met in my work here on Modern Gardener is to maintain an “experiment and have fun” attitude when it comes to garden planning. If none of my plants survive to bear anything edible, I’m honestly ok with that! As much as I’d love to eat fresh food that I grew myself, I’m having such a blast already putting all that I've learned so far on Modern Gardener to good use. I can already tell that taking on the responsibility of a community garden plot has been the best decision!
And if I do it all wrong and kill my plants, luckily there’s always the Farmer’s Market!
If you want to follow along with me as I garden this year, follow Modern Gardener on Instagram and Facebook, where I'm regularly posting stories about what's next in my garden. We love to hear from our followers, so please tell us your gardening stories too!
Modern Gardener Host and Author
Lizzi works for PBS Utah as a digital producer and host of Modern Gardener. Read more