Planning is not as exciting as actually getting outdoors and working the soil. However, good planning can increase efficient use of time and gardening space. Here is a beginning checklist:
• Create a list of favorite edibles.
• Next check the library, seed catalog, or internet for details: temperature preferences (cool or warm season), how many plants can be grown in a space and the length of time to harvest.
Sun is vital. A spot that gets full sun for six or more hours each day is to be cherished. The garden should be conveniently located. A small spot in the front yard or on the roof is more productive than a large plot far away.
Gardeners need to start small, have fun and build skills. Pacing by planning in the winter, planting in the spring, protecting and replanting in the summer ends with picking, eating or preserving.
The growing season, about 154 days in Evanston, runs from the average date of the last freeze, May 15, to the average date of the first freeze, Oct. 15.
Nothing should be planted until the soil is thawed and dry. Working wet soil will cause soil compaction.
Many seeds and cool-season plants can survive the cold, but they will not grow much until the weather warms up. The date to sow seeds depends on many factors: the hardiness of the plants, willingness to modify their environment, and a gambling instinct.
Planting too early may result in damaged or frozen plants. When seeds are put in cold ground they often rot or get eaten by hungry birds. Planting later will increase the chance of success. In addition, the planting weather is usually much more pleasant.
Creating a year-round planting/planning calendar with facts about particular preferences and situations will make gardening easier each year. Grandma always planted her tomatoes on Decoration Day (Memorial Day).
Here are some tips for the planting calendar:
• Start a notebook to record what is planted when, observations, evaluations and what changes to make next season.
• Fill in the average freeze dates.
• Take pictures of the garden from planting to harvest.
When to plant involves more than avoiding killing frosts. It also involves pacing planting to get maximum yields from limited space.
Succession planting, in which certain crops are planted weekly for a set period, will extend the harvest. Some crops can be harvested gradually and enjoyed for a long period of time; others are harvested all at once. This takes planning and some self-control.
A simple way to pace a harvest is to plant short rows. A five-foot row of broccoli will look short, but five feet of radishes ready to eat at the same time is more than most folks want.
Gardeners who do their homework now will enjoy this growing season.