There’s this unspoken pressure on a gardener. You have to do X, Y, and Z if you want to do it right. It’s no wonder that new gardeners get overwhelmed or give up after the first season. Can I let you in on a little secret? There are no rules. Take those books and throw them out the window (okay, they might have some valuable information, so don’t throw them, just set them aside). I’m just saying that every garden is as unique as the person who plants it.
If you want to try something new, do it! If you want to plant a hundred of this and none of that, go for it!
I’m not going to plant it because you say I should.
I have spent a lot of time planting the foods I’m supposed to. I mean, what’s an organic, permaculture, self-sufficient garden without brussels sprouts? You aren’t a real gardener unless your garden has 200 plant species in it, right? I hate brussels sprouts and I’m getting sick and tired of processing or unloading vegetables I don’t even like. All these things I’m planting because I’m supposed to are stealing space from the things I enjoy eating, resulting in smaller crops of things I enjoy.
Here’s what I want you to do. Make a list of vegetables that your family actually eats and that will grow in your area. Now is not the time to say maybe if I plant it, I’ll grow to like it. Go to your pantry and see what you’ve bought. Thinking over the dinners you’ve eaten in the last month; what was in them? Those are the things you should be planting. I don’t care how long your list is or how big your garden is. You can do 100 square feet of potatoes if you want. I won’t judge. They last well in storage.
My vegetable plot is about 1,000 square feet and I plan to grow only a handful of vegetable varieties. We enjoy pickles, so I’ll be planting some cucumbers (but only a few because I grow old of pickling after a few batches). Potatoes are a good staple for us, so I want to do a lot of them. Broccoli is great for freezing and drying, and we use it in soups and as a vegetable side at dinner. I’ll make sure I have that too. What I won’t have are obscure vegetables that I don’t know what to do with: kohlrabi, mizuna, and romanesco. I have grown them all and although they look pretty and I get compliments on them, I have no use for them.
I’m not going to plant in that layout because you said I have to.
The gardening forums are filled with gardeners that insist that their method of garden layout is the best. They all have their science to back planting in rows versus plots or raised versus in ground. We all want a good harvest, but does the technique really impact the backyard garden that much. It doesn’t. Not by enough to matter.
I really enjoy meandering through my flower gardens. There a little of this here and here. A little of that here and here. It’s casual and relaxed. It’s an experience to wander through the garden. Why can’t my vegetable garden be the same way? Yes, for harvesting’s sake, I probably want to keep my potatoes together, but why can’t I have broccoli scattered throughout the garden? Why does everything have to be linear with hard paths? I’m starting a new garden layout this year. I tried googling and found no information on this technique, so I’m going to coin it Free-Form Vegetable Gardening. You heard it here first folks.
I am a huge fan of permaculture. My Back to Eden garden is where I started and I’ve expanded into additional permaculture concepts. The basic summary of permaculture is mimicking nature. Yes, nature only grows certain things in the sun and certain things in shade. Yes, nature allows certain things to grow in certain soil types, but it doesn’t follow a hundred rules. By scattering my vegetables throughout the garden, I feel I will be giving them the best odds. If the soil or sunlight wasn’t just right in one area, maybe my crop will grow somewhere else.
Some of my best harvests have come from unintentionally planted plants. Last year my best pumpkins came from a vine that popped up next to the chicken coop. Granted, I had to grab a ladder to pick them off the coop roof, but they were beautifully growing up there and they got huge.
Plant your garden your way.
So this year when you are planning out your garden, think about what you want and forget about the rules. Plant what you want to plant and lay it out the way you want to lay it out. Let being in your garden and harvesting the fruits of your labors be a pleasurable experience.