Planning the Garden: a great way to build your food diversity and variety

It’s  that time of year again. The time when all the garden catalogs start pouring in. Every year, I look through all my seed catalogues and plan a garden that would cost me at least three thousand dollars in seeds and plants and trees. Then, I get realistic and narrow it down. Usually I buy mostly practical seeds and try out a few interesting varieties. With the quest for one thousand foods this year, I think the garden is going to be much harder to narrow down, but I plan to focus on growing foods that are difficult to find locally or expensive to buy; and of course, I will grow some of the family staples.

Whether you live in the country with acres of space for your garden and orchard, or you live in a city apartment with a window sill balcony, there is almost always some space to have a garden. In the country or suburbs you can usually garden in the ground, but sometimes room for a container garden is all the space you have.  Or, maybe you have too much shade, and one of the many community gardens would meet your needs. It is amazing how much food can be grown in a 10×10 garden plot, if you plan it well.

The American Community Garden association has a search engine for finding community gardens.  Locate a community garden near you  here.

We have 35 acres of mixed field and forest, so my garden can be as big or as small as I think I can handle. I try to plan based on how much time I can devote to the task of gardening. A small well cared for garden will produce way more food than a large garden untended. (Although garden weeds like purslane and lambsquarters are some of the most nutritious things growing in the garden.)

Navigating the seed catalogues

Some seed catalogues are full of all your common vegetable seeds. You’ll find Orange danvers carrots, blue lake green beans, yellow spanish onions, straight eight cucumbers, and Connecticut field pumpkins. You”ll probably see Danish ballhead cabbage, butternut squash, blackseeded Simpson lettuce, early girl tomatoes and crimson sweet watermelon. There is a good reason all these common varieties are popular in the seed catalogues. They taste good, are easy to grow, and offer a good yield. You can usually find these same seeds on the seed racks at local stores and garden centers. And, they are likely what you’ll find on the grocery store shelves.

Some seed catalogues focus on plants that grow well in containers, some focus on varieties that are great for the market gardener taking fruits and veggies to the farm market, and then some focus on the heirlooms and more rare vegetables and varieties. Those that focus on heirlooms and rare varieties are the catalogues I am searching this year.(Some years I just buy my seeds at the grocery store rack.) Of course there are always some hidden gems in the regular seed catalogues, so I will spend some cold winter days looking through those as well. I wont even mention (yet) all the great sources for interesting fruit plants, trees, and bushes.

This Year’s Catalogues

Some of my go to catalogues this year will be:

Annies heirloom seeds – I used to work at Annie’s and I know that they sell varieties specially selected for taste and true heirloom value. I miss you guys.

Baker creek heirloom seeds– lots of open pollinated varieties of seeds and plants from around the world.

Fedco –  seed cooperative with lots of great varieties and great prices. Moose tubers is the division of the co-op that sells potatoes and sunchokes. This is where I usually buy my seed potatoes if I’m not too late. Be sure to order early. The deadline for early shipment and volume discount is at the beginning of march.

Kitazawa seed company – best Asian vegetable seed catalogue in the U.S. that I have found. And they have great customer service.

 Richters – Great source for seeds and plugs for lots of different herbs.

Seed savers exchange (both the catalog and the members seed exchange) – many interesting seeds can be found here if you are willing to go through the effort to find them. With the exchange you can’t always get quantity of seeds, and sometimes have to promise to save seeds to share for the more rare varieties.

Strictly medicinal seeds – as an herbalist I have found this catalogue great for medicinal herbs seeds. And, because food is medicine, the catalogue also has some interesting vegetable seeds as well.

Sustainable seed company– great for heirloom grain seeds. Order early, they sell out fast.

Peaceful Valley farm supply– nice selection of seed garlic

There are many other great catalogues and seed sources out there. This list is just a small sampling of the catalogues I get each year. We also have a local seed saving group that usually has some interesting seeds too. I can’t wait to pick out my garden seeds for the year!

If you have a favorite seed source that you want to share, or an interesting fruit or vegetable you plan to grow this year, leave a note in the comments section below. We will try to post your suggestions on a later blog entry.

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