March 30th

theresa albert - my friend in food


Garden Planning 101

12 day old Luscious Lettuce mix in our winter garden.

It’s the third day of autumn and twelve days since I planted our final succession of greens for the 2011 season. Everything is coming up nicely, thanks to the deluge of rain followed by warm sunny days and gorgeous evening temperatures. With a little luck and some help from our tunnel cloches we should be eating another round of salad, arugula, kale, chard, beets and radishes in time for Halloween. (For more on tunnel cloches see my post from last week.)

Our little oasis in the city is still providing.

Perfect timing since our first greens bed, though still providing fully mature Dinosaur Kale, Wasabi Greens, Arugula, Chard and even a few beets, will undoubtedly be finished in the next few weeks.

One of the great pleasures of growing your own food, besides all those lovely hours spent outdoors in the fresh air, is learning how to keep your kitchen fully stocked with something – anything – fresh from your own garden for as many months of the year as possible. You can enjoy all those gorgeous beets you canned, beans you pickled, herbs you dried or froze as well as onions, garlic and squash that you stored. And if you have cold frames and tunnel cloches protecting your harvest you can have fresh hardy greens as well.

But all this fresh food doesn’t just time itself. You need to do a little garden planning so you can stay a step ahead. Even if you’re not a planner, a garden plan is an essential tool that helps you to decide where to plant what and when. And now is a great time to do that thinking. If you’re about to plant garlic you need to know where to put it. Plus if you’ve just finished a harvest so you’ll probably have plenty of fresh information about what worked and what didn’t.

K.I.S.S. – Keep it Simple Smarty

Ask yourself what you and your family like to eat. Start by making a list of all the things you love and then whittle the list down to essentials. It’s easy to get ambitious on paper but not so easy to maintain once it’s in the soil. Keep your garden small until you’ve got a few seasons under your belt.

Choose items that fit your space. If you have a small garden don’t choose crops like potatoes or pumpkins. They take up a lot of space and are relatively easy to buy at farmer’s markets or local specialty stores. Try climbers like peas, beans, cucumbers or squashes that can grow vertically and save on space. If you have a lot of sun, heat lovers like tomatoes and peppers will do really well. If you have a shady site try leafy greens that tend to bolt (go to seed) in overly sunny locations.

Crop Rotation

One of the basic tenets of organic gardening is crop rotation. Conventional food growing allows for pesticides to kill unwanted bugs and many varieties of hybrid plants are grown to be disease resistant. If you want to grow heirloom varieties without chemicals you’ll have a lot more success if you move your crops around from year to year. This confuses insects that commonly feed on specific plants. They wake up from a winter slumber only to discover their homes have been moved. The same is true for many viruses and diseases. Bacterial canker can decimate a tomato crop but will have no effect on leafy greens or brassicas. Conversely, leaf miners and slugs love to eat leafy greens but will likely leave your tomatoes alone. (Most of the time.)

Crop rotation doesn’t have to be complicated. Divide your garden into three or four sections. Then divide your list of favorite veggies into three groups of plants that grow well together. For instance Bed #1 is for Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplant, Bed #2 is greens and peas and Bed #3 is for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower. There are lots of books and websites that have crop rotation plans. One of my favorite books is “The Organic Gardeners Handbook” by Frank Tozer.

Counter clockwise from foreground: Bed #1, Bed #2, Bed #3 and our perennial herb garden in a raised raised bed.

This year I made the big mistake of NOT rotating my tomatoes thinking that it wouldn’t happen to me. Boy was I wrong. We lost 12 beautiful and fruitful heirloom tomato plants because of bacterial canker. So I will be a little stricter as I sit down to do our plan this year.

I planted these lovely tomatoes in the same place as last year. Big mistake.

Bacterial canker, a soil borne disease, lay in wait and spread like wild fire through the entire bed.

Learning the hard way: when I discovered canker spots on all the fruit we made the heartbreaking decision to pull the plants. We wept a little then planted zucchini instead.

We have three raised beds in our 2011 garden and here’s what I’m thinking for 2012:


Bed #1: Peas, peppers, eggplant, beans
Bed #2: Cucumber, leafy greens
Bed #3: Tomatoes (then I replaced them with zucchini)


Bed #1: Leafy greens through the winter, tomatoes in the spring
Bed #2: Beans, leafy greens (greens tolerate planting in the same spot fairly well)
Bed #3: Cucumber, Garlic (planting in mid October) beets and carrots

We also have a perennial herb bed that will hopefully weather the winter well and come back in the spring. I can wait until then to decide exactly what varieties I will grow. For now I can put my gardens to bed, plant my garlic and winter greens knowing I’ve got a basic plan mapped out for the next 12 months.

You don’t have to learn the hard way.  Garden planning and rotating your crops is the best way to stay one step ahead of disappointment.




Arlene Hazzan Green is an urban farmer and television director with one foot in the dirt and one in high heels. Along with her husband Marc Green she founded The Backyard Urban Farm Company with the goal of igniting people’s passion for growing their own food. Together they design, install and maintain organic vegetable gardens in homes, schools and businesses in the Greater Toronto Area. For more info about Arlene please visit


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