Growing and eating your own vegetables is one of the delights of having a garden. Not only can you grow delicious, interesting, and nutritious food but engaging in the work of vegetable gardening can bring you into embodied community with non-human nature and other people (I know I sound like a grad student but it’s true!). For some people the outcome of vegetable gardening (i.e. delicious veggies) is what the work is all about, for me it is the process. I love feeling my hands and feet in the soil, watching pollinators at work, and experiencing the magic of seeds sprouting.
February and March are the months (in the Northern hemisphere) to start buying your seeds and planning your annual vegetable garden. I live in the Great Lakes region of North America and usually start seeds indoors by mid-March, although many seeds I direct sow into the ground in May (I usually start tomatoes, peppers, herbs, cucumbers, watermelon indoors).
Before buying your seeds, take out your garden journal and answer these questions:
- What veggies and herbs do I (or my household members) love to eat? These are ideal veggies to grow!
I have made the mistake of growing veggies that no one in my family really likes to eat. While I absolutely advocate being experimental and trying new things, if your garden grows abundantly, you will have a lot of waste if you grow things you don’t actually want to eat. I once planted a ton of daikon radish, I couldn’t give it away and only wanted to eat it in small amounts. I have not made that mistake again.
2. What veggies do I love to eat but already buy in enough abundance from my farmer or farmer’s market? These are ones to consider NOT growing.
I really enjoy spending time at two farmer’s markets in my city and I love being part of a CSA. I have found that some veggies come into abundance at all these locations at the exact same time, leading to food going bad in my fridge. Of course that food always goes into my composter and is returned to the Earth but it is better to have it go into my body! Some veggies go bad quickly and I am not able to eat or process (can, freeze) them at the time they come into abundance. So, because I enjoy the relationship with my CSA farmer and the farmers at the market, I don’t usually grow those types of veggies (this is true for some greens, for example). I also know I will get enough of some types of veggies from my CSA farmer and so don’t need to grow them myself.
3. What veggies are expensive to buy organic? These are ideal veggies to grow!
I am committed to buying veggies from small-scale (when I can) and organic (almost always) farmers. This means that there are some veggies I don’t eat very often because they are either hard to find organic or very expensive organic. For me, peppers is an example of a veggie that falls in this category. This is a vegetable I like to grow in abundance in my gardens.
4. What veggies are so amazing and delightful that I will feel joy when I see them in my garden and eat them? Grow these veggies!
Some veggies just make me happy and these are the ones I am especially excited about growing. For example, lemon cucumbers are cute and delightful; fresh tomatoes eaten while still in my garden bring me great joy; and the experience of watching winter squash fruit grow over many months is awe-inspiring. Find the veggies that make you happy and grow them.
Vegetable gardening, in my experience, is the most labour-intensive form of gardening. That is why it’s important to grow veggies that you will love and appreciate. The next step, after you decide what you are going to grow is to decide where you are going to get your seeds. I think it is important to buy seeds that are heirloom (older varieties that have been grown in particular regions), organic (the mother plants are grown without pesticides), and open-pollinated (i.e. not hybrids, which means the next generation of seed will be viable). It is not always possible to find seeds that check all these boxes but if you search for small, independent seed companies, you will likely find some fantastic varieties. I like to buy my seeds from Urban Harvest, located in Southern Ontario. Find a small seed company in your bioregion and support it! I usually don’t make supporting companies part of my permaculture work but seeds are political. It is urgently important that we keep seeds in the hands of gardeners, farmers, and independent seed companies and out of the hands of large agrochemical corporations.
Open-pollinated seeds, for example, allow you to save the seeds from your harvest, grow them again the following year and share them with others. Although it may not seem like it, that is radical, righteous activism. Even though you will initially purchase your seeds from somebody, learning how to collect, save , and SHARE them means you can help keep seeds a commons of humanity. In late February and early March, Seedy Saturday events take place across North America. Try to find one in your community. They are a perfect place to buy seeds, share seeds, and meet other passionate gardeners!
Spring planning part 4 will focus on sheet mulching…stay tuned!