Planning the Garden

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We’ve had our first big snow and real cold of the year, a good time to start thinking about 2012’s gardening season. The seed catalogs are becoming a tall stack; looking through all the lush pictures in contrast to the very white landscape beyond the window is the beginning of the process that evokes the pleasure many of us get from our gardens, be they substantial or petite.

The first thing I do is to make a list of what I need. That involves going through my supply of older seeds to check out the ones that should still be viable. The following list is an average life expectancy for seeds kept dry and cool, providing a minimum 50% germination:

Arugula- 3 years

Asian Greens [Chinese cabbage, Mizuna, Pak choi, Tat tsoi, and others]-  5 years

Basil- 7 years

Beans [bush, pole, soy, lima]- 4 years

Beets- 5 years

Brassicas [Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower,  Collards, Kale]- 4 years

Carrots- 3 years

Chard- 4 years

Chicory, Endive, Escarole- 8 years

Corn- 4 years

Eggplant- 6 years

Lettuce- 6 years

Melons- 5 years

Onions- buy new every year, except for leeks and scallions- 1 year

Parsley- 3 years

Parsnip- 1 year

Peas- 3 years

Peppers- 3 years

Spinach- 5 years

Squashes- 6 years

Tomatoes- 4 years

Turnips- 5 years


What are your favorite things to eat right from the garden? That’s the best way to choose what to grow. I hardly plant Italian basil any more, it doesn’t excite my palate the way Thai basil does, and it’s not as hard to find if I want it. Some home grown produce eaten right from the garden has dramatically tastier flavor or sweetness compared to store bought:  asparagus, corn, green peas and tomatoes top that list. Other planning factors like how much space is available, and the time you have to devote to maintaining a garden are important too.  I like to try something I haven’t grown before each year, either a new variety of something familiar, or a new vegetable or herb. This year the former will be purple Romano beans, the latter Celeriac. Connecting with other gardeners where you live is a great way to learn what the possibilities are in terms of when and what to plant.

Seed catalogs online, or mailed to your home, can offer big selection, sometimes with advice that’s useful; such as regional appropriateness or timing for starting seeds. Companies I like that all have organically grown seeds:,,, and  Live in a place with no room to garden? Check out and see the nifty ideas for maximizing space on a Brooklyn rooftop!

Need to learn about growing a garden of edibles, from designing it to cooking the food? Whether it’s a few pots or an acre or two? Check out The Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden, but of course!