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!