When it comes to planning a vegetable garden, if I could show you the image that arises in my mind, you would think I lived in Italy. For the record, I don’t. Not even close. I picture a lush abundance of fat, juicy roma tomatoes, big, round globes of eggplants and plants weighted down with giant bell peppers. I picture a garden that is like a grocery store produce aisle with everything still growing on the plants. Forests of peas and beans and squashes and cucumbers vining over everything.
What this fantasy means is that when I am pouring over seed company websites and catalogs in the dead of winter, I want to recreate this wild and verdant profusion in my garden. And so I go a bit wild in ordering seeds and plants. So much so that by the time I plant them, I have usually lost track of which is what and I end up cramming way more plants in my available space than I have room for.
Things grow in a jumble, too close together which makes it difficult to harvest, let alone provide optimal growing conditions. And did I mention the work to maintain a garden like that? It takes so much work to keep it all under control. I say that, but I don’t actually know just how much work because when it gets to that wild and overrun state I tend to throw up my hands and vow to keep things simpler the next year.
Thankfully I finally listened to my own advice and have adopted a more minimalist approach – kind of like a capsule wardrobe, only with food. I now only grow what I refer to as my Big Ten. Ten food crops in my summer garden that I know I will eat on a regular basis. Everyone’s Big Ten will be different depending on food preferences and growing season, but I do try to choose plants not only that I know we consume a lot of, but crop choices that span the season from early spring to late fall.
Here is my Big Ten Garden Plan:
- Sugar Snap Peas
- Bush Beans
- Winter Squash
All from Territorial Seed Company.
To passionate gardeners this may sound pretty pedestrian and there are probably obvious holes. Where are the onions? Who can cook without onions? And what about carrots? You’ve gotta have carrots! And radishes? Everyone grows radishes! These holes are there for a reason. Produce I can purchase from local farmers at reasonable prices, I don’t bother to grow myself. These are the crops we eat regularly no matter what, and are far more inexpensive and delicious to grow myself. And I limit myself to just ten crops so I only choose those veggies that “spark joy” as it were. The veggies on my list also go together well and we can create a huge variety of dishes using the Big Ten food crops.
The fun begins with the variety of each veggie. Every year we start with our Big Ten list and pour over seed catalogs and websites to find what is new and fun. We give everything at least a two season chance and we never go with all new varieties in a single year, but most years we are auditioning some new variety or another. Given just how many tomato varieties there are, we may never get a chance to try them all. And lettuce? Don’t get me started! There are so, so many different kinds of leaf, head and romaine type lettuces to try! With only ten crops there is time to focus attention, try some different techniques and take notes for next year’s edification.
The Big Ten is not a non-negotiable list either. It can change from year to year if there is something else we want to try. Cucumbers might be replaced by beets and tomatoes might be forgotten in favor of eggplant. Sugar snaps are regularly traded out for snow peas and the green beans might have to give way for a big crop of dry beans.
Not even part of the list equation are perennial plants such as asparagus and artichokes, or fruit trees, bushes and vines. We grow those too, but perennial plans don’t take the constant attention that the annual vegetable plants do so they get a free pass in our garden planning, plotting and dreaming.
Years ago, when I was still in full on Italian-fantasy-garden mode, I purchased a garden journal thinking my problem was that I just needed to be a bit more organized. I spent all of my gardening time trying to rein things in, dig my way into the jungle to find the veggies buried beneath the tangles of plants and vines and keep my over-flowing garden watered. There was little time to enjoy or ponder because my garden chaos was so much to keep up with. Needless to say, I never touched that journal. I barely had time to cook the food I grew as I was spending so much energy on growing it!
With the Big Ten firmly in place, I have time to keep notes and that journal has become a treasure trove of hard-won knowledge! I can’t recommend this journal highly enough. I can’t remember where I heard about it, but I took a trip to Canada just to purchase it. Luckily for you, you can now purchase it online. Although, I do suggest a trip to Canada just because. The garden journal is published by Lee Valley Tools and has room for 10 years of growing seasons! A Gardener’s Journal — A Ten Year Chronicle of Your Garden.
Is your garden a bit on the overwhelming side? Would you like more time to enjoy the fruits of your labor? Maybe the Big Ten is the answer you’ve been looking for.
Other garden planners to check out…