Planning for Next Year's Vegetable Garden


August 23, 2018

So, the 2018 growing season is starting to wind down. Harvest is coming in and the canning season is literally right around the corner. And you really think it may slow down soon? Not so fast, Flash. Now it’s time to start planning for next year. There’s still quite a bit of work to do before you sit down for that “long winter’s nap”.

Why can’t I just buy seeds and put them in the ground next year you may ask? The quick answer is, “You can”. The only problem is that you may not optimize your garden space. The only way to get the most out of your garden is the have a plan and prepare the garden in advance.

Preparation needs to start as soon as the harvest in complete and your garden is empty. If you are going to leave your garden in the same space, preparation is much easier. The first step in preparation for next year is to add compost to your garden plot. You’ll need about two inches over the entire plot. If you have a large plot, you’ll want to till the compost in well. With a small plot, you can spade it in until the soil appears to be the same color throughout. Adding compost increases the soil’s organic matter which, in turn, increases the food for bio-organisms in the soil. The bio-organisms will release nutrients that your plants will use next year. In a small existing space, this is pretty much the extent of your preparation for winter and next year’s growing season. If you really want to be an overachiever, put up a snow fence to the north and west sides of your garden to capture snow. Believe it or not, the moisture you capture will soak into the ground and help out with deep watering early in the season.

For those of us that have large, unprotected garden plots, you may want to consider planting a cover crop for the winter. A mix of yellow sweet clover and triticale works well and will help hold your soil (and compost) in place. Next spring just till it under and it will provide additional nutrients. For those of you who are considering a new garden space, you have your work cut out for you and now is the time to start. Besides what is discussed above, you need to remove as much grass and roots as possible from the garden space before you start your preparation. You have a lot of work ahead of you, but the results are worth it.

Planning is indoor work and can start now or be put off until the snow flies and you really don’t want to be outside anyway. Always start with this year’s garden plan so you know where everything was planted. Now is the time to update your plot plan if you had to make changes. The same crop should not be planted in the same area for four years. This include crops in the same family. For example, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are all in the same family and need to be rotated as if they were the same plant. Good rotation inhibits disease and helps replenish nutrients that a particular plant family removes from the soil. It’s also a good idea to give the soils a break for a year or so every few years. Let the bio-organisms recuperate. Good record keeping helps tremendously with crop rotation.

Now is a good time to evaluate the varieties of vegetables you grew this year. Are you happy with what you planted or was the harvest less than expected? Start going through the catalogs now to choose the variety for next year. If something isn’t working like you expected, and you don’t think it was from anything that you may have caused, it’s time to try a different variety. For example, I’ve tried pickle bush cucumbers for the last two years and have had a very low yield. I’ll try something else next year. Here in Laramie County, look for varieties with the shortest growing season possible. That means those two-pound tomatoes probably won’t make it in your garden. The variety may be smaller, but they have to fit within our growing season. At this point you have a decision to make. If you are going to buy your plants at a store next spring, your planning is finished. Unfortunately, you’ll be at the mercy of whatever the box stores have in inventory.

On the bright side, if you are going to start your own plants from seed, your choices are almost unlimited. Pick your varieties, fill in your plot plan get ready to order. Getting seed in only takes a couple of weeks, so you have time. If you order early, be sure to keep them in the refrigerator so they stay fresh. In any event, you have time to get a place set up to start your seeds. Quite a few people simply set their seeds in a south facing window and let them go. Sometimes it even works. If you want to ensure a good germination rate, put your seeds in a location that will keep them at a constant 75-80 degrees with at least 12 hours of light once they start to germinate.

A lot of work? Yeah. But, you’ll have vegetables without the synthetics and soil additives found in commercially grown crops. Whatever is in your garden will be something that you put there. You are in control. Now you have everything ready to go for next year and it’s finally time for that “long winter’s nap”. Remember, if you have any questions, ask a Master Gardener. It’s what we do.


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