Living Close to Nature


Monica Rakowski

Tips for planning next year's garden

I've already started receiving seed catalogs in my mailbox. They are a reminder that, although this year's garden has been harvested, next year's garden needs to be planned. As the days grow colder and darker, the seed catalogs look more appealing.

I find myself daydreaming about seeds to buy and new garden projects to begin. If you're already planning like me, I'd like to offer you three tips for designing a winning garden next year.

Grow What You Eat

It's easy to get caught up in the exotic fruits and vegetables littering the pages of your favorite seed catalog. It can be fun to grow plants you haven't grown before. However, it's more practical and cost effective to plant what your family actually eats.

Food is expensive and time is scarce. Use your time wisely and plant the food that will reduce your grocery bill. Not only will you save money, but you will feed your family homegrown, organic veggies instead of the irradiated, pesticide-laden food from the market.

Plan for the Weather

The best thing I did last year was check the Farmer's Almanac for weather predictions. It told me the summer would be hot and dry. Knowing this, I chose plants that would thrive in those conditions. I grew a bumper crop of cayenne peppers.

The Almanac predicts that next April and May will be cooler and slightly rainier than normal. The summer will be warmer and rainier than normal, with the hottest temperatures in mid- and late July and early August. September and October will be cooler than normal with above normal rainfall. This means summer will be humid, and harvest time will be cold and wet. Powdery mildew and blight will probably be common next year.

Do your research and find strains that are resistant to fungal diseases. Try beans, melons, peppers, and eggplants which tolerate heat and humidity well. Be sure to treat your plants preventatively with an organic fungicide. Plant as early as possible so that you harvest before the rains begin in September.

Use Beneficial Microbes in Your Garden

Beneficial microbes should be a mainstay in your garden. These little critters have a symbiotic relationship with plants. Each strain performs different jobs. They recycle nutrients, increase nutrient uptake, improve your plants' immune systems, prevent pests and disease, increase drought resistance, increase root mass, increase vegetation and yield, and even convert nitrogen from the air into a form plants can use.

There are a variety of ways to include microbes in your garden. Amend your soil with humus and compost, both of which contain thousands of strains of beneficial bacteria and fungi. Add mycorrhizal inoculants to the root zone of any plant when you put it in the ground. These can be purchased at most garden centers. Regularly water your garden with compost tea to replenish and grow microbe populations.

As they say, proper planning prevents poor performance. Take the time this winter to properly plan next year's garden. You'll be a happy gardener come harvest.

Monica Rakowski owns KP Indoor Garden Store in Key Center and blogs at