On Nutrition

If 2020 was the first time you gave a second thought to vegetable gardening, you’re not alone. Seed packets, especially from some purveyors, proved to be as elusive as toilet paper and peanut butter. If you are planning to nurture your own modern-day victory garden again this year, here are some things to consider.

First, seed catalogs have been in homes for a few months now, so if you haven’t ordered your seeds, you may find that some are sold-out. However, based on my own ordering experience, the situation is less dire than in 2020. You still may need to be flexible about varieties or be willing to order from a few different companies — unfortunate, because some carry hefty shipping costs. Last year, I had to go piecemeal from three companies; this year I covered my bases from two (including one with free shipping).

The right time to plan your spring/summer vegetable garden is right now, especially if you have a large garden or prefer to start heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants from seed indoors, or are itching to get seeds of early-season veggies like peas, radishes and Swiss chard in the ground. But before you start planning your 2021 vegetable garden, it’s a good idea to spend a little time reflecting on what worked and what didn’t in last year’s garden:

  • Did you plant too much of one veggie, but not enough of another? This year, play with your proportions.
  • Did you find that you had a bumper crop of salad greens that needed to be harvested at once, then you were left empty-handed for the rest of the summer? Make a plan for staggered plantings.
  • Were you overly ambitious about how much time you would have to weed, water and wrangle tomato plants? Give yourself a break, and scale back a bit.

The next step is to inventory your existing seed collection. Some packets have hundreds of seeds, and can easily get you through at least a few years if they’re still viable. Onion seeds typically are good for one year, while tomato, lettuce and bean seeds can last you for three seasons. If you have way too many viable seeds, consider a seed swap with like-minded friends or neighbors.

Now pick up your seed catalog. Just be warned that if the copy is masterfully written, or the visuals especially picturesque, it’s easy to be seduced into buying more than you can use. Time for another round of reflection and self-assessment:

  • If you can’t (or won’t) get into the garden every day to harvest, choose slow-bolting varieties of lettuce and other greens. It’s sad when you go out, basket and shears in hand, and find that a whole swath of your garden has gone to seed.
  • Be realistic about what you like to eat — and at what point you’ll start getting tired of it. I’m still a little sheepish thinking about the years I grew far more varieties of heirloom tomatoes, beans and squash than my two-person household could eat or give away. (“But they’re heirloom! They’re so pretty!”)
  • Consider vacations, which may be back on the table this summer. If you plan to decamp for two weeks in August just as tomatoes and zucchini are hitting their stride, you’re going to come home to a mess — unless you have someone to harvest the bounty in your absence. Consider sticking to spring and early-summer veggies like greens and peas.

Happy gardening!