I am getting a little later start on our garden planning and starting seeds than I would normally like. But so goes life. :)
This past year has really helped me to more accurately estimate our usage of certain vegetables and items that we like to can fresh from the garden. We have tried to move closer and closer to self reliance every year, and made some very good progress in the past year on our homestead!
Here are some basics:
Get an accurate estimate of your gardening space
Determine how much of that space you want to dedicate to certain types of plants
Pick your varieties and plan out placement
Start seeds indoors or buy transplants
Get growing! Have fun!
It is always helpful for me to start with the space that we will have to plant in. It can be in ground beds, raised beds, planters, or any combination of the three. When you have an accurate estimate of growing space, you can better plan out what is important for you to grow for the year.
Get creative with your gardening space. You don't need a large in ground garden to grow some of your food for the year. A couple of planters and a sunny window or patio may be all you have to work with. That is just fine!! Grow what you can where you can!
Once you have your gardening space mapped out I like to move on to what we used last year, and if we should expand or shrink the amount of space dedicated to that type of plant, not grow it at all, or try a new variety out.
Last year we canned A LOT of tomatoes (and different tomato based products) and could increase our garden space dedicated to canning tomatoes to help fulfil our needs. We didn't have much luck with summer squash after the first few weeks and will likely down size the area for those. Cater to the needs of you and your family in what you choose to plant.
We will be planting a large garden this year, filled with tomatoes, beans, peas, lettuce, squash, melons, and more. I very much enjoy putting food up for the season and feeding my family from our garden even in the dead of winter. :)
Now that you have an idea of space and what you want to grow it is time to pick out varieties, and if you want to start from seed or plant starts. If you are planting a small garden, it makes sense to use plant starts when you can. That way you aren't buying a ton of seeds and looking for space to start indoors for weeks. If you plant a big garden like us, it makes much more financial sense to start seeds indoors and save some big $$$ on what plant starts would cost in large quantities.
I have a crazy amount of seeds and sometimes the sheer amount can get a little overwhelming. The best way I have found to organize is in these seed packet pocket organizers, put into a binder. That way there are not loose seeds and I can see fronts and backs of each packet and all the varieties of a certain vegetable I have very easily. There is no way I am going to plant all the different kinds of seeds I have each year. But it is very nice to have a variety to choose from. :)
When you are choosing the varieties you want to grow be sure to look with a critical eye at your growing zone and climate. Coming from Northern Utah our concerns are MUCH different here in Middle Tennessee. We now need to plant varieties that do well with high humidity and heat and have some resistance to common plant diseases and pests.
If you are new to gardening, be sure to pick varieties that will work with you instead of against you. Grow something that excites you as well, but try and give yourself a chance at success. Nothing will kill your love of gardening faster than a very unsuccessful first attempt. Just know that as you learn and grow, you will become more successful. I am still learning every season and have many successes AND failures still.
When you have all of your seeds of starts decided on, lay out your garden plan and decide when each needs to go into the ground. How much room does each plant need? When should you put them in the ground? You can look up your last frost date and growing zone easily and work from there. Things like Broccoli, peas, and lettuce like the cooler weather, whereas tomatoes, peppers and squash thrive in the warm summer temps and would likely die even in a light frost.
Most of all enjoy the process!! It is exciting to learn or try something new. Don't take things too seriously, plan what you can and learn to be flexible when things inevitably go a little sideways. Gardening can be such a joy and you literally get to enjoy the fruits of your labors. Nothing is quite as sweet as eating homegrown food.