Don’t Get Left Behind; It’s Almost GARDENING Time!

Are you thinking about your 2021 garden? You should be! There’s plenty (drought, pests, disease) that can go wrong despite good planning. Why make things more difficult by waiting until the last minute?

Here’s what I do every January when it’s bitterly cold or icy and I don’t want to venture outside. First I get out my gardening journal — surely you have one! I admit that I didn’t start keeping a yearly garden journal for almost 20 years. Then I forgot and bought seeds for a tomato variety that I had grown before and didn’t like. What a waste of valuable garden space! Lesson learned! Anyway, I go through my notes from the previous year and see what varieties I planted and how they did in regards to yield, diseases, pests, etc. Then I ask my co-gardener, Matt, what he liked best about the garden (sugar snap peas!) and what he didn’t like (kale—but it’s good for him!). Then I trace a new garden outline into my journal from my layout map and start planning what will make the cut this year.

Kathy's husband standing between rows of trellised peas in their garden
Matt in the sugar snap peas

Knowing how many square feet you have to plant is critical to proper spacing of your plants. If there’s one complaint I hear more than any other it’s “my plants didn’t do well and I barely got anything from them.” I’d estimate that 80% of the time it’s because the gardener tried to cram too many plants into too small a space. While intensive gardening can be very successful, it is usually the result of mixing different plants with different requirements throughout the season — not planting 4 pepper plants in 4 square feet.

I’d suggest referring to this MU Extension guide for suggested spacing if you are planting a lot of one type of vegetable. If you want to do intensive gardening in a small space, consult this section of the MU Extension Missouri Master gardener manual.

While CGC gardeners will be offered seeds and plants of tried and true varieties during the season, it can be fun to look to other sources for new and exciting varieties. Your choices are mind-boggling. If this interests you, I suggest looking now while the best varieties are still available because that seed goes fast!

After deciding what plants I want to grow, I go through all my leftover seeds. Questions I ask myself are: what types have I got, how old are they, and is there enough for the upcoming season. Did you know that many seeds are good for several years if stored under cool, dark, and dry conditions? Opinions vary on seed viability lengths but here’s a quick rundown from Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog:

1 Year: onions, parsnips, parsley, salsify, spinach

2 Years: corn, peas, beans, chives, okra

3 Years: carrots, leeks, asparagus, turnips

4 Years: peppers, chard, pumpkins, squash, watermelons, basil

5 Years: cauliflower, broccoli, beets, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers,
muskmelons, celery, lettuce, endive

one red and two green tomatoes on the vine

Next up, are you growing any plants from seed at home? Each year, I grow a variety of our favorite heirloom tomatoes from seeds that I have saved from last year’s fruits. It’s really very easy, just get on the Internet and type in “saving tomato seeds.”

However, if you’re inspired to try this yourself keep in mind that only “open-pollinated” seeds will breed true and be nearly identical to the parent plant. In other words, do not attempt this with hybrid varieties unless you are okay with mystery vegetables! For tips on the necessary supplies and methods of starting various vegetable seeds at home check out this MU extension guide.

Finally, for a good overall guide to get you started, try Vegetable Gardening by James Quinn and David Trinklein, Division of Plant Sciences, University of Missouri.

Here’s wishing you a happy and productive 2021 gardening season!

6 thoughts on “Don’t Get Left Behind; It’s Almost GARDENING Time!

  1. Thank you Cathy for this invaluable information! Do you have motivated me and giving me lots of tips and references to improve my garden! I have heard that the seed companies are having a hard time keeping up with demand so some seed may say not available at this time but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are out of the seed.

    • Anne, it’s always nice to hear from an interested gardener–especially in early February! It’s definitely not too soon to get started. As soon as this arctic blast is over I am planting some old lettuce seed outside and hoping for the best. In the meantime I have started some lettuce and other greens inside. There are few things more satisfying than eating lettuce from your garden at about the time most people are putting out seeds. GO FOR IT!!

  2. These are all great points! I’m definitely guilty of trying to cram too many plants into too small a space – and it was the peppers that started giving me the most problems early on. Lesson learned!
    Are there any seeds that are particularly difficult to save?

    • Scott, the only types of vegetable/herb seeds that I have actually saved and replanted are open-pollinated tomatoes and peppers, bunching onions, parsley, dill, cilantro, broccoli rabe, arugula and all kinds of flowers. Out of those the only ones that require more than waiting till the seeds are dry or ripe are the tomatoes. The tomatoes require a little bit more effort, but just look online. There are countless people doling out easy instructions. If you are uncertain as to what varieties are open-pollinated, again just look it up online. If it’s described as heirloom it should be okay to reuse the seed. Keep in mind that many of the seeds and plants that the CGC provides are hybrids.

  3. Thanks for reminding me to look for that wonderful French red romain lettuce I didn’t find last year! Happy gardening.

    • Vicki, your lettuce choice sounds wonderful! I hope you get some. I’ve read that the reds have even more nutrients so I always include some in my lettuce patch. Besides which they look so beautiful in your salad. Have you ever grown the lettuce variety “Freckles”? Perhaps I’m biased since my long ago nickname was Freckle-faced Strawberry (based on a Kool-aid wannabe product). But it really brightens the appearance of a salad!

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