Tugging at the root, I shook off the dirt and tossed the spent tomato plant in the wheelbarrow. I then gathered up the spent cucumber vines and pulled up a few weeds. Finally, I untangled the season’s new blackberry canes, tying them up to the trellis to prepare for next spring.
I stood and surveyed the rest of my garden plot — the okra reaching for the sky, beans producing once again in the moderate fall temperatures, a successful late planting of summer squash, and carrot seedlings planted before summer’s end. But having spent the last two weeks clearing out overgrown weeds and spent summer crops, most of the garden area lay bare.
Like an unpainted canvas.
Suddenly, my late-summer exhaustion gave way to a new excitement and hope. My mind bubbled with thoughts and ideas for next year: how I’d do this differently or that better; how I’d scratch this crop altogether and add many more of that one.
Oh, the possibilities!
Typically I don’t begin planning the year’s garden until Christmas Day. It’s a kind of comfort habit of mine. Smack-dab in the shortest days of the year, a brown and sleeping earth outside the cold glass window, I wrap myself in a blanket, brew a cappuccino, read gardening books, and thumb through seed catalogs. While reading, I make notes and dream. And sometime in January I have my garden all planned out.
But this year, I’ve decided to make a change. While planning a garden in the middle of the winter is a fun and cathartic activity, perhaps my plan would actually end up better if I made those plans while the previous year’s garden is still fresh on my mind.
Maybe I wouldn’t get so carried away with planting an entire raised bed of peppers I won’t eat, and perhaps the temptations of the seed catalog wouldn’t take me further than I really need to go.
So here are 4 reasons I am planning next year’s garden in the fall:
What I Wish I Would Have Done is Fresh On My Mind
As I pulled out those tomato plants, my thoughts held regret. I wish I would have had more tomatoes. Though I canned plenty of tomato sauce, tomato paste, and taco sauce, I didn’t get enough to can the amount of spaghetti sauce and crushed tomatoes to last me until next year. The same is true for my bell peppers. Had I earmarked the raised bed for bell peppers and tomatoes instead of paprika and poblano peppers, my pantry would have had plenty of spaghetti sauce.
I Remember What Worked Well
My corn crop performed surprisingly well, and I enjoyed having two successive harvests. Now that I know how to grow corn, I’d like to expand and have three successive crops.
I also learned about the timing of summer squash and zucchini in my garden. With the yearly infestation of the squash vine borer, I learned that my very early crops produced well before eventually succumbing, and the one I planted in late July gave me a pest-free fall harvest. With that in mind, I’ll plan two separate plantings of squash and zucchini.
I Can Test My Soil & Amend Accordingly
Fall is the best time to have a soil test done. (I simply dig up dirt 6″ deep from my garden, put it in a zip-top bag, and take it to my county extension service. They test it free and mail me the results.) If I know where I want to grow my crops for the following season and my soil is on the acidic side, for example, I can add lime where I plan to plant crops that like neutral soil (tomatoes, corn, beans) but not where I plan to plant crops that like slightly acidic soil (potatoes).
I also have time to add compost, manure, or other organic amendments as needed, depending on my soil analysis, giving it plenty of time to break down into usable nutrients before the next season.
I Can Plan Based on Achievable Garden Goals & Not on Pipe Dreams
Those seed catalogs, let me tell you. They’re like the Toys R Us Christmas Catalog to a child. Last year I succumbed to trying too many new crops, and in hindsight I wasted valuable garden space on some of those new ideas. I always want to try new things, but I let myself get carried away.
Because the realism of what worked and what didn’t is fresh on my mind, I can plan the bulk of my garden for what I will truly want out of my garden, and any remaining space I can use for fun.
I also have a realistic view of what I can keep up with. In the spring it’s tempting to want to expand the garden when the weeds aren’t growing. It’s easy to get in over our heads. But in the fall we understand what’s doable and what isn’t. When our gardens fit our capacity to manage them, they’re more likely to be successful, and we’re less likely to burn out.
Get Started Now!
Since your mind is fresh with this season’s hits and misses, it’s the perfect time to start jotting down what worked and what didn’t. I created a chart to allow me to begin to plan next season’s garden and I want to pass it on to you. It has a chart for each crop and allows you to work through how many plants you’ll need, when you should plant, location ideas, and other notes from the season. Here is how I used this chart for planning next year’s onion and potato crops.
To print your copy, click here to download this chart (pdf) now!
Starting after Christmas, I send out a “Plant Something” weekly checklist to prepare for the season to my e-mail subscribers. To make sure not to miss these resources, click here to subscribe to these weekly e-mails from December through May and every other week through the rest of the year.