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How to Plan What to Grow

On the days during January, when it’s just too wet to be at the allotments, my favourite rainy day job is planning the growing year ahead.

So where to start?

I make a list of what I want to grow. Some items are priorities, staples. Some are new to me and then if there is any space left, the odd experiment. But it’s good to remember, that because I use the no dig method I can use some areas to grow a second crop of veg immediately after the first has finished.

A good example of this is that last year I grew a large quantity of onions, some white some red and a few shallots. These were dried and then strung and hung in my garage and they will see me right through until next year's onions are ready to lift. Once the ground was clear of onions I lightly raked the ground and grew lettuce, spinach, French beans, chard and beetroot in their place. All of the second planting did exceptionally well.

Because I have had Lottie for a few years now, I am really getting to know what does well on my ground. Also because I am limited for space I try to prioritize the veg that I use a lot of and that I can store, freeze or dehydrate to help me through the hunger gap.

My must haves are ,

Onions, Spring onions, Garlic, Tomatoes, Swiss chard, Beetroot, Lettuce and other salads, Butternut squash, Courgettes, Kale, Spinach, Purple sprouting, Red cabbage, Savoy cabbage, French beans, Leeks, Parsnips, Carrots and Herbs.

All of these are things I use a lot of, and keep well or I freeze and preserve. Last year after all of these were incorporated into my plan I then added things I’d like to try growing. These were peas and sugar snap peas, celery, runner beans.

So after adding these veg to my list last year I have definitely decided that the sugar snap peas need to be moved to my priority list. They had a very high yield and froze well and I am still using them from the freezer now. So they were a good use of space. The peas where lovely but I got far more from the sugar snaps so I will not grow peas this coming year. The runner beans I have grown before and although I love them fresh, I prefer the French beans they freeze better, so this year along with the dwarf French beans I normally grow I think I may try just a few climbing French beans too.

Previous years I have grown borlotti beans, black eyed peas and butter beans, these I leave on the vine to dry out and then dry them on trays to add to stews casseroles etc. They will last me a good couple of years so I don’t grow them every year. But generally every third to replenish my stock.

The celery did much better than I expected, but I think I need to plant it earlier this year. I chopped and froze quite a lot for casseroles etc and I dehydrated the leaves and made celery salt which is so handy for cooking. So celery gets to go on my list but not the priority one.

So you can see how each year things change a little. I always like to experiment with things . Last year I grew ginger in a pot. I think I planted it a bit late so not a great yield, but I’m going to try again this year as I love ginger and it’s freezes well and can be used in so many things including the Elixir 9 I make for the winter months.

I love to have flowers on my plot to welcome in the bees and I always grow sweet peas and nasturtium so these go on my priority list and I use seeds I collect myself from previous years.

You may have noticed I have not mentioned potatoes. I love new potatoes but they really do not do well on my ground and as they take up a lot of space for a poor return, I generally just grow a few in a bag wherever I have space here and there.

So once I have my priority list and my grow again list and have planned where they will be planted by drawing it out on a plan in my journal, I then start to look at anything a bit unusual, the “experiments”. Over the years I have tried growing Ochre, Bangladeshi beans, Celeriac, Kolrabi amongst other things. How did it go? Well they didn’t ever make the priority list or the plant again, but it was fun to try!

Last year I planted a forest of tomatoes in every shape, size and colour you can imagine. I think I got a little over enthusiastic because the previous year I had tomato blight and lost every plant. So this year my intention is to be a little more thoughtful about what tomato varieties I plant. I want some sweet colourful cherry’s for salads. I want to make lots of soups and pasta sauces for the freezer. So I will definitely be growing more varieties like Roma and San Mariano as they are very fleshy and have a lot less seeds. I also dehydrated lots of tomatoes last year, so sweet tomatoes with less seeds will be perfect for this too. I like beefsteaks so I may have one of those and I can’t ignore the good old money makers. So that’s the tomato plan, but will I stick with it? Or end up with a mixture like last year? I guess I will just have to wait and see.

Whatever I plan in my journal for the coming year, I know it won’t all go to plan or be exactly as I plan it, there will be chops and changes but that’s ok. Growing is just one big experiment and should be flexible and fun.

What are your growing plans for the year?

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Meet Sue & Katie

Two women. Two generations. Both mothers and lovers of the county where they live. Blogging about Dorset here at Dorset Country Life. Find out more...

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