Posted by: A Part of the Solution | January 14, 2013

Vegetable Garden: January

What is there to do in a vegetable garden in January? What do plants want or need in January? Why think about the garden in the midst of winter?

January is planning season for vegetable gardeners. January is the time of year, in the Northern Hemisphere temperate zones, for thinking about the next ten or eleven months in deep detail.

A vegetable garden begins with a plan. Gardeners need to know in which areas they will tend plants, how big those areas are, and what growing conditions will prevail through the growing season. Is the ground low and damp? Is it exposed with compacted soil? Is it in partial shade?

If you don’t have your own land upon which to garden, January is when you scout someone willing to let you put a garden in or extend an already existing garden.

Plot the garden. If it’s been planted with veggies before, the gardener plots which vegetables grew where. You want to be able to rotate plant families through the garden by blocks, in order to discourage certain pests and diseases which pass from season to season via the soil.

The Rotational Families of Garden Vegetables

Plant Family A : Brassicas–kale, collards, tat soi, cabbage, broccoli, mustard greens, turnips, radishes, cauliflower, and so forth.

Plant Family B: Chenopods, Apiaceae, Alliums, Legumes and Asteraceae—beets, chard, spinach, carrots celery, parsnips, parsley and many herbs, onions and chives, peas and beans, and lettuces, basil

Plant Family C: Solanaceae–potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and okra

Plant Family E: Perennials–asparagus, herbs, biennial strawberries, brambles, rhubarb

When you decide where you’ll be planting, keep in mind the differing needs of your plant families. Some take rich soil, like the Solanaceae. Some prefer partial shade, like lettuces, peas and a number of the perennials. Some require soft, stone free soil, like the Apiaceae. And some plants have short enough growing cycles you will be planting them more than once across the course of your growing season: lettuces, beets, basil, radishes and carrots as well as peas.

If the ground isn’t frozen solid, and you didn’t do this in November or December, find some rich compost or hot manure and apply it to your growing beds about 1/2 thick, assuming your beds are clear of turf or matted weeds have been turned under to form a green manure. This is top dressing your beds, and through the winter, rain and snow melt will leach the enzymes and minerals the garden cultivars want for growth into those garden beds.

Now you can sit down with your Rodale’s Garden Answers and the on-line seed catalogs to decide which specific cultivars you will plant through the season. Do you want peas which are easy to grow and tend (ie the short bushes), or do you want climbers to provide shade and more abundant yield per plant (ie they want tying up)? If space is your primary limitation, the climbing peas are your best bet. If time is your delimiting factor, then you want the dwarf peas. Do you want carrots in fun colors, or those which are resistant to powdery mildew? Will you start your solanaceae, alliums and brassicas indoors, or will you buy transplants from a nearby shop or farmers market?

Rodale’s will tell you how closely you can plant each vegetable, and how long they take to grow. Use that information plus your bed plotting to work out how many seeds of any cultivar you want. Some of the heirloom vegetable seed sites give you very few seeds, like Cherry Gal. Many seeds lose their potency from year to year, so this may be a practical choice if your gardening space is limited. Some of the sites offer astounding variety, like Johnny’s Seeds. Some offer only organic seeds, like High Mowing Seeds. Poke around. Make lists. Assess your chosen beds and time limitations.

January is a busy time in the vegetable gardener’s diary.

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