Hey Everyone,  

I hope everyone has been finding our Gardening Tips helpful and interesting! Since Farmer Kaylee laid out some great ways to prepare our gardening spaces, now comes one of my favorite parts of growing food, selecting the veggies you want to grow! With many options out there and variables to consider, it’s easy to get lost at this stage of the gardening process. So if you’re feeling the pressure, you’re not alone! I’ve come up with some considerations, suggestions, and guiding questions that might help make the crop selection and planning process a little easier. As always, if you have any questions or would like clarification please don’t hesitate to reach out! 


Echoing a big takeaway from Kaylee’s previous newsletter, I want to re-emphasize that there is no “right” way to garden! If this newsletter is stressful instead of helpful, disregard it entirely! Grow what you like! Take risks! Learn from any mistakes next year! Growing and learning alongside your plants is a critical part of gardening and farming and if you’re doing that, you’re doing amazing!


Consider Your Garden Goals 


If you’re feeling stuck with your garden planning, consider narrowing down the goals for your garden. What do you hope to get out of keeping a garden? Are you hoping to save money by growing your own food? Just want to spend more time outside? Wanting to have a reliable source of veggies for as long as possible? Looking to add beauty to your living space? Hoping to grow veggies that are less readily available at your grocery store? Your goals will impact the type of veggies you might prioritize growing.


If you’re looking to cut a chunk out of your grocery bill, consider growing veggies that tend to be more expensive at the store and are relatively high producing crops in the garden (more bang for your seed and fertilizing buck). Some great examples are tomatoes, hot peppers, greens, cucumbers, and zucchini. A little pro gardening tip to keep some of these plants productive for longer is to create a harvest schedule for your tomatoes, hot peppers, cucumbers, and zucchinis or any other vegetable that is technically the “fruit” of your plant. The primary goal of plants is reproduction. If you let these “fruits” hang out ripe on your plant for too long, the plant will begin to believe it has fulfilled its duty by producing ripe fruit that will soon rot, drop, and leave seeds behind. If you continually harvest the “fruits”, the plant will recognize it needs to continue to put energy into fruit production and keep supplying you with yummy veggies. This practice will help you maximize the savings you get out of your garden! 

On the other hand, if you’re looking to have a steady supply of fresh veggies for as long as possible you might consider selecting crops based on how well the veggies store and what time of the season plants are capable of producing. Though we are certainly limited in our capability to have a year-round garden here in New England, adding root veggies like carrots, beets, and parsnips to your garden can add to the amount of time you’re able to eat veggies from your garden. In contrast to some other veggies, they have a pretty remarkable shelf life and can keep you eating fresh veggies well into winter! I’m still working my way through some B&P carrots from the fall myself! Another consideration would be which veggies that might do well in the freezer, while there is a pretty great flexibility on freezing veggies, there are some veggies that freeze a bit better than others.Some favorites of mine are kale, spinach, and tomatoes. The concept of freezing veggies might feel a little intimidating especially if you don’t think you’ll have a super high-producing garden, but planting some crops that allow you to have even a bag or two of really well freezing garden veggies in the freezer can make all the difference in the wintertime! 


You can see that exploring these two different goals leads to some pretty different crop selections, I encourage those of you who feel planning and mapping minded to try exploring your goals and doing research on which veggies can best fulfill your specific needs! 


Asses your Maintenance Capacity 


I’m definitely prone to over-committing my time and energy into projects and getting burnt-out. If you can relate, giving some thought into the maintenance requirements of your garden can be an important part of your crop selection. If you already have an idea of veggies you want to see in your garden, taking a quick look at what each plant will require in terms of maintenance can help you decide which plants you want to select. Some examples of important things to take note of are: whether it's suggested to seed plants directly into the ground or whether they should be seeded inside and cared for before transplanting, how often you might need to harvest the plant, if the plant needs to be trellised (kept upright), whether the plant highly susceptible to being taken over by weeds, and the level of pest and disease pressure the plant could experience.


Sometimes instead of abandoning a plant altogether because of it’s maintenance needs there are ways to minimize the time you put into caring for it. For example, tomatoes tend to be some of the needier garden veggies because they like to be well cared for before being transplanted, need to be trellised, and are susceptible to many diseases. If you’re able to afford buying transplants from a farm or garden center or select a disease resistant hybrid variety, you can cut down on your labor considerably! And as an extra shoutout to mulching, mulching any crop will help you cut down on your weeding time with all veggies!


If you know that having a low-maintenance garden is a primary goal of yours, here’s some of my top picks for low maintenance veggies: kale, collards, arugula, lettuce, hot peppers, green onions and herbs. 


Having reliable resources on hand to help guide your gardening can also help manage this feeling of being overwhelmed by your garden. I’m a huge fan of this Black, Indigenous, and People of Color led gardening guide compiled by Soul Fire Farm. It's a great all-in-one-place guide with a bunch of awesome videos and online resources on a variety of gardening topics from composting, starting seedlings, pest management, expanding your garden season and more! 


Work with Your Space Limitations


Depending on your gardening arrangement, you may be feeling the limitation of the amount of space you have. Whether you’re gardening in a garden box, pots, planters, or a smaller garden plot - your crop selection can help maximize your use of your space. An important consideration for selecting crops here is suggested crop spacing, if you aim to have more than one of each plant in your box, planter, pot, or garden it’s helpful to know how big your plant will get. Selecting plants that need less space between them can help you maximize your space, but if one of your favorites needs more space, pots can save the day! Putting a couple of these space loving plants into their own pots can help you avoid using up your entire box or garden plot to accommodate them. Some examples that come to mind are tomatoes and pepper plants which can thrive in pots but need a fair amount of spacing to do well in a box or garden. 


If you’re specifically working inside of a container of some sort, another important consideration is the depth of your container. Be intentional about selecting plants that can accomodate the specific depth of the containers you’re working with. Here's a helpful guide to required depths to grow different veggies courtesy of this Urban Gardening in Containers article.

  • 4-5": chives, lettuce, radishes, other salad greens, basil, coriander

  • 6-7": bush beans, garlic, kohlrabi, onions, Asian greens, peas, mint, thyme

  • 8-9": pole beans, carrots, chard, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, leeks, peppers, spinach, parsley, rosemary

  • 10-12": beets, broccoli, okra, potatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, dill, lemongrass


Try out Intercropping/Companion Planting


Intercropping is the practice of growing two or more different crops in the same space together, making it another great option for anyone feeling limited by their gardening space. Most plants have ideal companion plants that can prevent weed pressure by better shading out the space around your plants and/or manage pest pressure by attracting beneficial insects or repelling pests with scent. We don’t do much of this at the farm as maintaining this on a large scale is a bit more difficult, but this can definitely be a helpful practice to incorporate on a garden scale. 


Not sure where to start? Leah Penniman in her book Farming While Black suggests that growing beneficial flowers down the middle of beds or on bed ends is an easy way to get into intercropping. She suggests that growing either nasturtiums, marigolds, borage, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, and/or aromatic herbs in this fashion can attract pollinators and beneficial predatory insects while adding beauty to your garden beds. 


One thing that can make companion planting tricky is that there are planting combinations that might negatively affect your plants. If you consult a companion planting guide like this one from Mother Earth News and remember these general rules of thumb, you can avoid some of these negative plant interactions. 


Keep in Mind: 


Nutrient needs - Avoid planting two plants who have similar nutrient needs together, this will create competition for nutrients and negatively impact the growth of both plants. A quick look at the nutrient needs of the two plants you want to plant together can help avoid this scenario.


Air flow - Most plants need proper airflow to grow properly. For this reason, pairing plants together that are the same height and have equally dense foliage tends to disrupt airflow more than other options. Pairing taller and shorter plants (think tomatoes and lettuce) and/or dense and wispy plants (tomatoes and carrots) can help avoid this issue. 


Sunlight Needs - Planting plants closer together means that there will be some competition for sunlight, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Pairing sun loving and shade loving plants together can work great in this instance. Going back to the tomatoes and lettuce example, planting lettuce in the shade of the tomatoes can actually help prevent this cold loving crop from bolting as quickly in the summer months. 


I hope this newsletter can be helpful to some of you! Wishing you all the best with your garden planning! As always, your Book & Plow farmers are happy to hear from you and help in any way we can!

For Book & Plow Farm,

Gardens in our Community

We've been asking folks to send in pictures of their gardens so we can show them to you! If you have garden pictures you want to share, send them to us!

This photo is from Professor Lisa Brooks' Three Sisters Garden from last year. She says they'll be planting it again this year. On this cold, rainy day, this picture is especially beautiful!
One of our rockstar student farmers Nishant Carr sent us this picture last August of a new garden bed he had built. I wonder what he'll grow in it this season?
Hayley Singleton, Head of Collections at the Beneski Museum / Book & Plow CSA member is building some raised beds this spring and has started tomatoes for the first time! So cute!

We love seeing what folks are growing, keep the garden pictures coming! 
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Book & Plow Farm · 301 E Hadley Rd · Amherst, MA 01002 · USA

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