Planning the 2021 Vegetable Garden – Laying out the Vegetable Beds

When we took over the allotment, one half of our current gardening space (the part next to the shed that gets partially shaded in the darker months, and gets some late afternoon shade even in the height of summer) was completely overgrown with grass and weeds. The only thing we were able to identify was some very obvious borage, and the only reason we knew there had been beds is because our plot neighbors told us so.

So we mowed it all and then I put my foot down and said that I wanted to develop that part of the garden organically, see what was there, and work around it…

Back then, my partner was more into what I call „neat and orderly gardening“ – digging deep, putting everything in rows, weeding anything that wasn’t planted on purpose… So we decided he’d take care of the other half of the garden, which has full sun all day every day – and as far as we were able to tell had been used to grow strawberries and not much else.

In that first year, and also in 2020, both parts of the garden did about equally well – with different pros and cons to each area. The shading in „my“ half of the garden makes it a bit challenging for some vegetables in the spring and autumn, but is definitely helpful with brassicas during our hot and dry summers.

In 2021, now that we’ve got most of the bindweed (and that horrible grass which I still haven’t been able to identify) under control we’ve decided to up our game and take a more methodical approach. The beds that are in full sun all day will be planted in rows while the other area will be given over to my daughter for her herbal garden and some more romantic, cottage garden style planting. Companion planting and succession planting will be done in all areas of our garden though. That’s a definite no-brainer.

Since the worst of the soggy winter is now over and we can walk on the lawn again without creating little ponds, I finally got around to measuring the beds. The next step will be to do the actual planning, but that’s an ongoing process for future videos. I certainly hope you enjoy this one – even if there’s not all that much to see.

Heating the Greenhouse in the Freezing Cold

Because some US friends in a Facebook group who have been hit by unusually cold weather were asking, I took some video footage I had and made a video of how we heat our greenhouse (without electricity) in the winter.

So did the insulation and clay pot heaters end up helping?

Our greenhouse is very small, about 5 square meters or 50 square feet. It was very cheap and isn’t well insulated, so I add a layer of bubble wrap (also fairly thin because I couldn’t source anything more substantial). Weiterlesen

Starting out in 2021

Now in general I don’t have a defined „garden year“. We garden year-round, or at least we try to. We have plants in the ground at any given time and seedlings in trays or in small pots on the windowsill or in the cold frame on our balcony. But like with most people, our main focus is on the summer crops and since they are sown early in the calendar year here in the Northern Hemisphere, we tend to do our planning between Christmas and Epiphany (when I have time off from work). Also the winter solstice and lengthening days tend to motivate me…

It’s only the beginning of January right now, but I’ve already started some of my seeds. There are crops that need a long time to maturity, like super spicy chili peppers, so I start those early in the year. And I never put all my eggs in one basket, so I like to start about 1/4 of each crop 6-8 weeks before the usual sowing date for my area. I just never know in advance whether we’ll have a mild spring (we have quite a few of those) and it would be a shame to waste it just because I haven’t planned ahead. (I can always put some in the greenhouse or under fleece if we get a frost in April or early May.)

Speaking of the climate – we’re in Southern Germany a couple of hundred yards from a river and our frost hardiness zone is 8 (8b microclimate). It’s basically a great wine-growing climate – so we don’t get many hard frosts and temperatures stay around or above freezing for most of the winter. Summers are mostly hot (over 30°C/86°C is normal in July and August and over 35°C/95°F is something we have to expect for weeks on end) and often very dry. Our last average frost date is officially May 15, but I’ve checked the statistics and frost in May is extremely, extremely rare, so I go by May 1 for at least a part of the plants and cover them if we do get an unexpected frost later on. Often enough those are the plants that do best because they’ve had time to root deep down before temperatures rise (May can already be hot and dry).

So what have I started so far? The south facing windowsill in our living room is very long so I can do quite a bit of plant propagation there. We have chili pepper seedlings, some early cauliflower, broccoli, and some Brussels sprouts (those are for harvesting leaves – but if we get lucky with the weather they will give us sprouts, too). I’ve started some of the herbs that will go in pots on our balcony (which is usually a couple of degrees warmer than the allotment) and I’ve started onions from seed as well as leeks.

I have a couple of broad beans sprouting in the mini greenhouse/cold frame on our balcony. They will go in the tomato bed as green manure once they’re a bit bigger – with the option of harvesting shoots until mid-May when we take them out. We also direct sowed some, but none of those have come up yet, unfortunately.

One thing I’m trying this year that is more of an experiment is cranberry bushes from seed… They need to be inside for 2-4 weeks, then out in the cold (around freezing) for 4-6 weeks, then in a slightly warmer space but below room temperature – so I’ll put them in the pantry where I also overwinter pepper plants. I have no idea whether this will work out as planned, but it’s worth a try since I just can’t afford to buy lots of cranberry bushes.

Mornings at the Allotment

Welcome to Mornings at the Allotment. This is a personal blog about my journey to a more peaceful, fulfilled, and sustainable life.

We – that’s myself, my partner, and my teenage daughter, have had plot 97 for almost two years now and are still learning. But already we have come to appreciate it more than we can say.

So why the title? I work full time with a very long commute and we live in an apartment – but working from home due to Covid has allowed me to spend some time at the allotment before work every morning with a cup of tea or coffee- the perfect start to almost every single day.