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Garden with ease: Plan for the year ahead

Have a plan, says local gardener, and don't trust you'll remember what you did last year. Write it all down.
Consider raised beds when planning your garden, advises columnist: they can save much time. Photo: Lucy Haines

A home owner went to a local garden centre to get some garden tools. As he left, he said, “good bye.” The owner did not respond. “Why didn’t you respond?” he said. “You’ll be back.” And he was, not once, but twice. 

We waste a lot of time because we don’t plan ahead as we perform our daily garden tasks. Have a plan and follow it. Make lists on what to do. Our memory, especially when we are busy, is not reliable.

In your planning, consider raised beds--a major time saver. Thinning and weeding can be done at any time, wet or dry. Crop rotation is simple, never planting the same plants in the same area for the following two years. And, you won’t walk on your garden, compacting the soil and robbing plants of oxygen.

Plan to use vertical structures such as trellises, poles, stucco wire, or rebar mats to increase your yield from small spaces. Cucumbers, pole beans, winter squash, tomatoes, and peas like to grow up. Place these plants where they will not shade sun-loving plants.

Read up on garden pests and how to keep them in check using methods that do not kill beneficial insects.

Have an assortment of tools: shovel, hoe, rake, fork, trowel, watering can, pruning shears, and garden clippers. Have a specific place to store each and put them back after use; this will save you time in not having to look for them. Have a number of 5-gallon pails to carry soil, weeds, and water. Purchase two rain barrels and a watering can. Also, dress for comfort with knee pads, garden hat, and garden gloves.

In the winter months, develop a plan on what you want to plant, usually based on what you like to eat. How much of each vegetable do you want to plant? For example, 200 lineal feet of carrots will feed a family of four until March. Do you want that many carrots? Don’t plant more than two hills of zucchini. Determine how much garden space you can allocate to each vegetable you plan to plant.

Once you have decided what to grow, determine where and when you plan to grow them. Some, such as tomatoes and squash like it hot with lots of light. Lettuce, spinach, or cabbage like it cool and a bit shady. Carrots, potatoes, onions, and peas can tolerate some shade, but the yield is less. Make a list of what seeds to buy.

Make a paper plan of your garden and record what you plan to grow, and where. As spring approaches, plan on when to plant each vegetable or flower. Some vegetables such as lettuce or spinach can be planted in late April. Carrots, onions, cabbage, or peas can be planted in early May. Potatoes, tomatoes, and beans should be planted in late May. Most annual flowers must be set out after the last frost.

During the summer, save time by weeding as soon as the weeds are large enough to be pulled out. Thin vegetables as proper spacing will double or triple the yield at harvest time. Inspect your garden at least once every two days to help you to identify watering requirements and garden pests that can cause major damage to your garden.

In the fall, prepare your garden for the spring by removing weeds, adding compost, smoothing the beds, and constructing or maintaining your raised beds and vertical structures.

Do not trust your memory. Keep a log of your gardening activities. Record each seed variety, when you planted it, how long it took to germinate, when you first started to harvest, and how you stored the excess. Record problems and how to avoid them. Make a list on what to do next year.

Charles Schroder gardens in the Edmonton area. See more at his website,