Planning Your Next Garden: Evaluate the Garden

The calendar hasn't said so yet officially, but winter weather is already here. As I write this post sleet is spitting through the air outside. Fortunately I have a pot of hot coffee available to offset the cold. What should a gardener be doing on these cold "winter" days when the garden isn't suitable for enjoyment? Cold winter days mean that it is time to plan the next garden. It's time to take what you learned from this year and plan how you want to do next year's garden better, bigger, and more efficient. Today I thought I would tell you about my thought processes for planning the next round of gardens. I'm mainly talking about the vegetable garden but you can adapt the thoughts in this post to herb gardens, cutting gardens, native gardens, or any other type of garden.

Planning a garden begins with evaluating the current and past gardens 

Evaluate your garden problems.

Every year you garden you will learn things. Maybe a plant did fantastic and you figured out exactly how to grow it, what conditions it enjoys, how productive it can be, or the right site for it, but maybe it didn't do so well. Maybe that plant failed miserably. (Don't worry about it I've screwed up quite a few plants over the years!) The experience can be turned from a failure into a positive learning experience simply by evaluating what went wrong. It's time to ask yourself some questions:

Those are just a few of the many questions you could ask yourself about your garden. It's not important that you micro-evaluate every little thing about your garden but rather that you get a general idea of what may have caused the problems your garden experienced. If you can identify the problem you can find a way to fix it!

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How Did Your Garden Produce?

Evaluating your garden isn't just about the figuring out the problems but also find out what you need to grow. Maybe you were giving your neighbors a daily dose of zucchini. In which case your neighbors may have mysteriously stopped answering the door...or moved...

Designing a garden: Things to Think AboutIt's also possible that you grew 4 tomato plants and you didn't have enough leftover to can some for the winter. Maybe you realized that you really don't like broccoli after all and the 25 heads you brought in from the garden was too much. It could be that you noticed that you used all the onions from the garden in your cooking too fast and need to grow more. There are many situations where you need to evaluate what you grew and how your garden produced.

Make a list of the vegetables you grew then make a few notes about their production. Keep it all related to what your needs are. If your family needs more peppers next year then make a note of it. If you need fewer zucchini plants (or need to successively plan them better) then take note of that too. Also include anything you didn't grow but might want to next year. Just keep the list simple.

Evaluate the garden space

There are efficient methods of laying out your garden design and then there are aesthetic methods to layout your garden design. Sometimes they overlap but often they don't! Ask yourself:
What could make the garden more efficient? The proximity of garden areas can greatly increase your efficiency. Your garden probably has a few critical elements for efficiency in its design:
If your garden is small then this won't matter nearly as much, but having these areas close to one another can reduce a significant amount of wasted time in hauling hoses around, moving compost, and getting equipment. Ideally your garden will be centralized in relation to all the other elements but unfortunately sometimes the best situation for our gardens is not the best one for efficiency! In all things do the best you can!

Evaluate your garden tools

Do you have the best tools for the job? Is there something else that might work better? Are they cleaned and sharpened? If you take a few minutes to maintain your tools that may be all you need to significantly increase their efficiency!

Evaluate your garden's ultimate goal

Every year I set out to try something new in the garden. My goal is often simply to learn more about the plants I am growing and to figure out the mystery of growing a vegetable or a plant. It could be your goal is similar, but maybe your goal is grow enough food to donate to a local food bank. Maybe your goal is to sell produce at a farmers market and make a small profit. Whatever your goal was for this year try to figure out how well you met your goal and what was the difference between what you accomplished and what you hoped to accomplish.

Evaluating your garden shouldn't be something that is a tedious chore. Take some pleasure in thinking and reminiscing about your successes and even your failures. When you evaluate the garden you learn from it. When you learn something you'll know how to do it better when you plan your next garden.

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