Planning the Garden & Changing the Way We Eat

These beautiful, sunny 65* January days only attribute to the spring fever I get every year about this time. Frank and I got out a vegetable list yesterday and started planning the garden for this year. Over the past two months we have made some fairly drastic changes in the way we eat. We’re not calling it a diet, because this is the way we plan on eating for the rest of our lives. You see, we are both over weight, and it is way past time to do something about it. Something permanent. Not something that will last a while, help us lose a few pounds, then go back to the way we used to eat and gain it back. This is a permanent change and we are very excited about it. And from another perspective, if we truly believe that our country and world is in for a very serious collapse, which we do believe, then we need to be healthier and better able to deal with the physical challenges that will come when we are in long term survival mode. 

That being said, we have made some fairly significant changes in what we will be growing, not only for ourselves, but for our animals as well. We will not be growing potatoes, sweet potatoes or corn this year. They are very starchy and full of carbohydrates that we really do not need. There are other vegetable choices that will provide us with the energy we need, along with many other nutrients, that don’t have the significant carbohydrate load. There are some vegetables that we haven’t been very successful at growing, that we are going to get very serious about. Things such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, onions and winter squash. I have looked into buying some green lace wings and lady bugs to try and increase the predatory insect population while at the same time decreasing the cabbage worms and aphids. Since we are both home full-time now, the garden will also get more attention than it did with only few minutes during the evenings on weekdays and weekends. I’m hoping that will make a big difference.

Each year as I start to think about rotating crops in our small garden, I pull out last year’s map to make sure I remember what was growing where then. Last year’s map is one of the messiest ones yet, but it still contains the data I need for this year.

After Frank and I made the list of vegetables we want to grow, I went back and separated this list into early cool weather plants, and warm weather plants that won’t go outside until after the last frost. Most of these will be grown as seedlings, but a few will still be directly seeded into the ground. We have found that growing seedlings, even with beets and carrots, gives them a much better survival rate than direct seeding, which is the traditional way to plant. If we give them a good start as seedlings, they survive the early spring weeds much better and we get more harvest for our efforts.

After we made our list, and lists of lists, I got out last year’s map along with this document that contains companion plant data for the vegetables we grow. I have several garden books that cover this information that I was referring to over and over. So, I kept looking up the same information time and again. After a few years I put everything on this document and printed it out for my notebook, which is much quicker to reference.

I use it every year when choosing locations of vegetables. Companion planting really is effective. Before I knew beets were inhibited by pole beans, I planted two rows of beets on either side of my pole bean trellis. They all died and I didn’t know why until I started incorporating companion planting into our garden design. This is another example of layers of knowledge. The more I learn, the higher our vegetable yield becomes, and the more I realize I don’t know.

Armed with our list of vegetables, last year’s map and my companion plant list, I am ready to map out this year’s garden. Initially I do it in pencil, because I always have to move something. Either I put it too close to last year’s planting, or next door to something it doesn’t get along with too well. But after a little jockeying around, everything usually falls into place. I thought I had everything on this map and was satisfied with the results until I realized I had left out the tomatoes, which means I had left out some of the carrots. I have the companion planting book Carrots Love Tomatoes, and they really do. Some of the best carrots we have grown have been on either side of the tomato trellis.

Taking down trellis, end of summer 2013

Speaking of trellises. We use stock panels on t-posts. Each year at the end of the season, we take them down and stack them beside the garden. Then after we have everything tilled up for the last time and ready for planting in the spring, we install the panels and t-posts wherever we want the trellis to be for that year. There are just about as many ways to trellis tomatoes and beans as there are gardeners, and this way works very well for us. It’s easy to pick from either side of the panel, and we don’t have any trouble even with some of the strong winds and thunderstorms we get here sometimes. One of the trellises will initially be for the sugar snap peas. After our last average frost, which is April 1st, I will plant beans in amongst the peas to take over the trellis when the peas are finished. I did this with peas and tomatoes last year. 

Since we haven’t had any luck with fall planted winter squash for the past two years, I will be planting my winter squash in the spring when I plant the yellow summer squash. We would like to get as many winter squash as possible to store for both us and the animals. The same goes for the mangel beets, which are an old time traditional animal feed.

September 2014

We planted a larger than usual patch of cowpeas, purple hull peas, last summer which actually grew pretty well even though the grass overtook most of the patch during Frank’s back surgery and recovery. Many, many peas dried and went to seed in this patch, so we expect they will come up again this summer. Because of that, this will be one time that we won’t rotate this crop. We make it a standard, rather strict practice not to grow the same crop in the same place two years in a row, but instead of pulling up many volunteer pea plants, this year, we will replant the peas here and let them share space with the expected volunteer plants.

July 2014

We will be growing a fair sized patch of sunflowers again this summer for the chickens, goats and pigs. (The pigs will be joining us in a few months.) The amount of sunflowers we can grow in the garden will not be enough to provide a lot of animal feed, but will be a supplement, and it’s good practice. If our plans work out to get a larger area ready to plant in one of the pastures, we will grow many more sunflowers, cowpeas, maybe some field corn, beets, winter squash, turnips and carrots there. All for animal feed. That would be a dream come true. We have had plans for this pasture for many years.

This year I will plant the spinach, lettuce, celery, celeriac, leeks, collards and swiss chard in the herb bed. There is room there to do small successive plantings, and that will leave more space in the main garden for the larger vegetables. I will also work at getting more herbs established in the herb bed again this year. There are many things that are started, and some of the annuals are reseeding themselves, which is the goal. The weeds and grass had a hayday last summer during Frank’s recovery as well. But there are many things still growing in amongst the weeds that we hope to give more attention to this summer.

There is much to learn, study and do to provide a good, balanced adequate diet. I continue to try to determine the nutritional content of the vegetables we are growing, to make sure we are getting what we need to be healthy, active people. Because when the time comes that we must depend upon our little patch of dirt for our sustenance, I want to be ready. I want to know how to coax that nutrition out of the ground. I want to be able to put a healthy, satisfying, life sustaining meal on the table in front of my husband. I want to live.

Until next time – Fern

16 thoughts on “Planning the Garden & Changing the Way We Eat

  1. Potatoes may eventually come back on the menu, Karin. But not until we have reached our goal in weight loss. There are many other vegetables, like cowpeas, that pack a lot of nutrients and carbohydrates that we will add back into our diet first. We'll just have to wait and see about potatoes. Thank you very much for sharing.Fern

  2. We use the cattle panels for trellises also. Love them. I hoping for us to be able to change our ways of eating too. Last years garden wasn't very good and we didn't really have much to can. This year will be different. I hope.

  3. As you are planning for future nutrition requirements, including how many carbs you need, don't forget that an off-grid lifestyle burns many more calories. Those living an agrarian life anytime before machinery and electricity required close to 4000 calories a day to do what they needed to do. Maybe potatoes will be back on the menu!

  4. Will your heat map work off of 12 volts, Fiona? We have always tried to stay with sustainable practices if we have to function off grid for an extended period of time. Your idea of a rocket stove to heat a greenhouse is very interesting. Our plans include having 50 gallon water barrels as the 'legs' of our greenhouse tables. As the water is heated by the sun during the day, it will help keep the greenhouse warm at night in the winter as the heat of the water dissipates. It will also help keep the greenhouse cooler in the summer, even though we will not be growing many things in there then. That is the theory, anyway. It will be a very interesting experiment when we get to that project. The list is long, and we're not sure when we will get it built. Thank you for sharing.Fern

  5. We started reading about aquaponics a long time ago, but have always preferred to use the land we lived on. We do have plans for a greenhouse which will increase our ability to grow all kinds of vegetables in the winter. Thank you very much for the link and for the comment.Fern

  6. I'm glad I'm not the only one that scribbles all over things, M.E. (-: It's interesting to see how folks do things differently. I am always able to learn something. Thank you for your kind words and for sharing.Fern

  7. Warm weather veggies do not do well here. Less than 60 day growing season and it rarely gets over 80 degrees during the day and the mid 40's at night. Tomatoes need 55 degrees at night to set fruit. (drat). Root crops do OK here, but we love squash but just cannot grow any decent winter squash at all.

  8. Great Plans! We start as many seedlings as limited space allows and last year we invested in a heat mat. It made a tremendous difference in germination speed and seedling vigor. We are now designing a greenhouse with a rocket stove system in it to heat the seedlings from below without electricity but that will be in the future. I think planning is a crucial as seed quality, getting that good start and planting things where they will do the best. Happy planning!

  9. You might want to research \”Aquaponics\” a closed system with fish and plants in a balanced garden. Since the systems have to be covered, they are less impacted by the weather, and a small system will grow all the veggies you need, without the bugs and weeding, and with good design, no bending. has a lot of info, although I prefer the \”Flood and Drain\” method for a small 2 person system

  10. I laughed when I saw the notebook with scribbles and markers as it looks familiar! Drives Mtn Man nuts! Figuring all this out is part of being successful. I have found t hat direct seeding of ground vegs works better here. I tried some root seedlings in pots last year with no success!! I will be doing some squash and tomato seedlings this year as they did pretty well. As always great write…ttyl

  11. I grew nasturtiums one year and put them in among the squash. But the squash soon out grew and over shadowed the little nasturtium plants. We grow marigolds and zinnias every year in the garden to help deter bugs, they just don't deter all of them. This year when I plant the cabbage and broccoli, I'm going to plant them in a very haphazard manner interplanted with onions and basil to see if I can impact some of the insects. Between planting differently, importing some green lace wings and hand picking the cabbage worms for the chickens, I really hope to have a good crop this year. Thank you for sharing.Fern

  12. If I didn't keep the garden maps from year to year, Tewshooz, there is no way I would be able to remember where everything was. One thing I need to add to my notes are which insect pests show up and how I dealt with them. Some things I have tried were successful and some weren't. I even go back and reread some of the blog posts sometimes. Putting all of the companion plant information together just saves time. That way I don't have to get out several books and look everything up again and again.We are leaving off the potatoes because of the carbohydrate content. There are so many other things we can grow that will fit the bill. Is it too cold for squash where you are? That's too bad. They store so well and are full of good nutrition. Thank you for sharing.Fern

  13. I haven't tried it personally, but I read that nasturtium plants will attract aphids. The aphids will go to the nasturtium rather then the plant you want to harvest. Hope this helps. SJ in Vancouver BC Canad

  14. Wow, you guys are organized. Wish we could grow winter squash, but we can grow onions and potatoes like nobody's business! Potatoes are full of nutrients and only about 100 calories each. (smallish) but that is plain without cheese and sour cream, ha ha. We can and dehydrate ours in addition to eating fresh. Wish we could grow all the veggies you can. (sigh).

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