Here we are, knee-deep in the holidays, and our gardens have finally been tucked in for the long winter nap. It’s a time of year many growers look forward to, a time to finally put up their aching feet, assess how the growing season went, reflect on successes, failures and what to do better next year. Some of the decisions many folks reflect on, including myself, are: did I grow the right garden plants this year? The right variety? The right amount? The good news is that we have a nice chunk of time to look through seed catalogues and think all this through. Some of my favorite seed catalogs are Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, Seed Savers Exchange, and Burpee, though these are predominantly for vegetables. Some of them will even send you a catalog for free. Get yours today! Even if you don’t buy seeds, they are really appealing to look at.
This past year, I made a common gardening error; I planted too much of the same thing. I really like super-hot peppers, but I planted three of each kind, totaling 12 super-hots in all. By late August, I had hot-pepper trees, thanks to the hot weather, and there was no way I could use them all. I dehydrated them, made super-hot salsa, hot sauce, pepper salt, and more, but at the end of the day, that garden space could’ve been used more efficiently to grow some onions, winter squash, or something else for cool-season storage and later use. Don’t fall into this trap!
Maybe you buy transplants at the farmers market instead of starting your own seed, and that’s fine, too! Regardless, when planning for next year, do try and operate by a really important rule, and that is: don’t experiment with more than 20% of your garden space. It’s definitely encouraged to experiment, because how else will you learn how to be a better gardener? On the other hand, you don’t necessarily want to avoid planting ALL the plants that are tried-and-true.
Besides tomatoes and peppers, get adventurous next year and try growing something different. An herb, flower, or vegetable you’ve never grown before will let you rediscover the wonder of the garden. I’m trying bush beans (pictured)! The info on how to grow just about anything is out there. Order your seed catalogues now and have a look. And as always, reach out to us at Extension with any growing or gardening questions.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bush Bean Seeds Photograph by Nick Frillman, University of Illinois Extension
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Frillman is a Local Foods and Small Farms Educator serving Livingston, McLean & Woodford counties. A fourth-generation graduate from University of Illinois, Frillman has a B.A. with a double major of Political Science and Spanish and a M.S. in Crop Science with a focus on crop production. Before joining Illinois Extension, Frillman completed a field season of CSA and farmers’ market style production at a small “beyond-organic” vegetable farm in Sandy, Ore.