When putting in your garden, there are some other things besides ensuring the survival of your transplants that you may want to consider.
• Lots of folks are interested in harvesting, not only produce and flowers, but also seeds to plant in next year’s garden. If you are one of them, make sure your parent plants are not hybrids and that different varieties of the same flower or vegetable are planted far enough apart that inadvertent cross pollination won’t take place. This site (howtosaveseeds.com/table.php) contains a table listing the distances that should be kept between plants of the same variety, in order to keep your pollination pure. They give the recommendations of two entities, with the USDA recommendations being more reasonable for small home gardeners to follow.
There are plants, tomatoes being one, that are self-pollinating and the theory is that you can plant two different kinds right next to each other without any worries that, for example, Black Krim will mate with Dwarf Wild Spudleaf tomatoes. However, there are cases of tomatoes falling in love with their neighbors, so I would advise putting the recommended distance between tomato varieties if you are interested in seed harvesting. The simplest solution that bypasses all the issues of cross-contamination is to stick to one variety of a plant. If you are crazy for the heirloom Anna Russian, which regular produces one pounders, and want to save the seeds from year to year so you can stop worrying that seed companies will suddenly stop carrying them, plant only Anna Russians this year. Problem solved, since there will be no other variety that could cross pollinate with Annas. Ditto for pumpkins and so on.
• In the rush to get everything into the ground, I sometimes have ignored the fact that the sowing of some crops should be staggered. Peas and romaine lettuce are my kryptonite. By the time summer comes, I can make myself swoon by imagining fresh Caesar salads and new peas touched by just a hint of rich Danish or Kerrygold butter. As a result, I often put down the entire packets of peas and romaine at once. Unfortunately, when they all come to maturity at the same time, Ted and I cannot possibly vacuum down all the peas and lettuce growing older and less tasty by the second. I have frozen peas and even lettuce, because in winter soups it functions like any other green, but the results are a poor second to fresh out of the ground produce. The years when I have my lust under control, I do several sowings, 10 days or two weeks apart. It reduces my late May/early June planting frenzy, and extends the length of time I can enjoy these vegetables at the peak of their freshness.
• Crop rotation, crop rotation, crop rotation. I know home gardens are small but one of the best and easiest ways to give your plants the best conditions is to move them around. The soil does not get depleted of certain nutrients and it fools marauders like root maggots. I try to follow a three-year cycle, never replanting the members of the same family in the same spot for three years after a harvest. It is not always easy, but it is worth the effort.
Mother Earth News had a handy list of the major vegetable families:
• Onion family: onions, garlic, leeks and shallots
• Carrot family: carrots, celery, parsley and parsnips
• Sunflower family: lettuce, sunflowers and a few other leafy greens
• Cabbage family: cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and many other leafy greens, as well as rutabagas and kohlrabi
• Spinach family: beets and chard
• Cucumber family: cucumbers, melons, squash and gourds
• Pea family: peas and beans
• Grass family: corn, wheat, oats and rye
• Tomato family: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes
It is sobering to read this information put out by Mother Earth News: “What if you don’t follow a crop rotation plan? Field trials in Connecticut and Europe indicate that your potato production will quickly fall by 40 percent, mostly due to disease. According to a seven-year study from Ontario, you could expect similar declines if you planted tomatoes in the same place over and over again. Compared to eight different rotations with other vegetables or cover crops, continuous tomatoes consistently produced the lowest yields. Snap beans that are not rotated will turn into paltry producers, too. In a recent study from Cornell University, snap bean production doubled when beans were planted after corn rather than after snap beans.”
In summary, crop rotation is a simple and free way to keep your soil healthy and your yields higher.
• I have had years that I neglected to think of the height my plants would be in July and August, and as a result by mid-summer the taller plants were shading out (and thus stunting) shorter plants. On the other hand, sometimes I want to use the shading out factor, so I will plant lettuce and pak choi and other greens that bolt from too much sun and heat where they will be sure to appreciate the corn blocking out some of the sun.
• Not just your garden but your containers and baskets do better then you consider their needs, especially watering and sunlight requirements. Tuberous begonias do well in shady spots, so if you pair them with sun lovers like marigolds, one or the other will produce less than optimally.
The same sort of consideration should be given to whether a variety likes consistently moist soil or does better with drier soil. You cannot put water hogs and the water averse in the same basket because one or the other will be doomed.
Linden Staciokas has gardened in the Interior for more than two decades. Send gardening questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.