The Trouble with Growing Paste Tomatoes: Determinate vs. Indeterminate Varieties

I love growing my own tomatoes. I don’t grow them for slicing, sandwiches or salads. I grow my tomatoes so that in autumn I can make and can my own pizza sauce. The trouble is, a lot of paste tomatoes are indeterminate instead of determinate.

What does that mean?

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

Indeterminate vs. Determinate Tomatoes

In tomato sauce production, that is, the big commercial fields that grow the tomatoes for our ketchup, jars of marinara, and tomato paste, they grow determinate tomatoes. This means that the tomato produces all of its fruit at once. All of the fruit ripens at the same time, and all of the fruit can be harvested at once. This makes sense, right? If you’re going to harvest the fruit out of a field with a tomato harvesting machine, then you’ve got to do it all at once. A few weeks ago some folks on my team at work took some bloggers out to California to see this in person. Check out this post from DadLogic showing how tomatoes are harvested and turned into tomato paste. It’s fascinating.

What what about those indeterminate tomatoes that I’m growing in my yard? Indeterminate tomatoes are plants that produce their fruit gradually over the entire season. This makes perfect sense for home gardeners, because most home gardeners would be baffled by a sudden single harvest of pounds of tomatoes with no tomatoes after that. You’d want to harvest a few for your salad, then the next day harvest a few more, and so forth. It’s perfect for having tomatoes all season long.

In June, the garden really starts rocking. See what warm weather veggies are taking off and which cool weather vegetable need to be taken out.

Here’s the trouble…

I’m not growing tomatoes for sandwiches and salads. I’m growing tomatoes for canning, which means, I need to have a lot of tomatoes all at once. Even with 8 lbs of tomatoes last year, I only wound up with 4 jars of sauce. A tomato here and there just won’t cut it.

So why wouldn’t I just buy determinate tomatoes like the farmers do? Deer. Caterpillars. Raccoons. The wildlife in my neighborhood is attracted to my garden like it’s some kind of all summer buffet. The idea of having one crop all at once sounds great to me, but it also feels a lot like putting all my eggs in one basket if that makes sense. If the fawns wean right around the time the green tomatoes start appearing, the entire crop is lost, and it’s lost forever.

What works best for me is having indeterminate tomatoes so if the critters decide to come for a snack, there are still plenty of blossoms on the vines to produce lots more fruit to make up for what I lost.

countertop tomatoes

But what about that canning thing?

With the indeterminate tomatoes, I run into the problem of having a tomato here and a tomato there. So how do I get enough to make my pizza sauce? I need 10 lbs at the very least to make this whole thing worthwhile.

This was a struggle I ran into last year. The tomatoes were going bad before I could get enough to can. What could I do?

Then, mid-season last year, it hit me. I knew the solution to my problem.

I froze them.

 

I started washing them and freezing them in big gallon bags. I managed to save 8 lbs last year, and got my pizza sauce. It wasn’t enough to give any away (I guard my sauce jealously), but it was enough, if we used it carefully, to last my family through winter, spring, and summer.

This year, I started freezing tomatoes as soon as they ripened. I’ve got around 15 lbs of paste tomatoes packed into my freezer today, with a bunch more ripening on the counter, and more on the vines. (Full disclosure: My local grocery had a sale on roma tomatoes, so I went ahead and bought a few lbs and froze them, so some of those came from the store.)

Frozen Tomatoes

Won’t freezing ruin my tomatoes though?

In my experience, freezing sauce tomatoes actually helps. A frozen tomato will thaw out mushy and falling out of its peel. This is gross if you’re wanting a tomato for a sandwich, but for sauce? It’s kind of perfect! Saves me the time of having to fool with peeling them!

That first year, peeling and seeding tomatoes was a total nightmare. You have to boil them, dunk them in ice water and then get the skin off. It took forever, and I scalded all my fingers, which would’ve been great if I was living a life of crime because, Hey! No fingerprints! But since I’m not living a life of crime and I like my fingerprints and I also like my fingers to not hurt, it wasn’t so great at all. Also, I ended up losing a lot of the tomato that stuck to the peel and wasting what could otherwise have gone into my pot.

When you freeze a tomato, the peel slips right off after it thaws, so you don’t have to fool with boiling water, burned fingertips, and wasted fruit.

And here’s a bonus tip: My grandma, who’s been canning her whole life, tells me that you really don’t have to get all the peel. You can just toss the tomatoes in the blender peel and all. She tells me that when she makes salsa, the peel seems to help thicken the salsa and improve the texture!

So, if you’re growing tomatoes for sauce, and you’re having trouble getting enough to can, consider freezing them! It’s worked great for me, and I hope it works well for you, too.

Freezing Tomatoes pin

Garden Update July 2016

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

July was a month of incredible garden highs and crushing lows. This was the month that the garden started paying off in a huge way, which was exciting for all of us.

Cricket, especially, has been excited to finally start harvesting the fruits of her labor. She planted our beans for us this year, and she loved the chance to grow purple beans!

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

I was hoping she’d eat them, but alas. Her vegetable passion seems to extend only to growing them so far.

But I sure enjoyed them!

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

The peppers and the tomatoes have also been a source of excitement.

Look how big this sweet banana pepper is?

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

We’ve got tomatoes beginning to blush.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

And other tomatoes ready to pick (and some that got knocked off the vine by varmints).

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

Even tomatoes with silly shapes!

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

The basil is going nuts.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

The okra that Cricket begged me to buy is getting tall and beginning to put out blossoms.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

But the real source of joy was the sweet corn. The sweet corn was my crop. These were my plants. I squeezed 45 corn plants into my 2 foot x 6 foot bed, and it grew perfectly. I lavished love on it.

It grew tall and put out tassels! (That’s where the pollen is).

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

I hand pollinated the beautiful baby ears to make sure they would be perfect.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

And they were perfect. They were gorgeous. Some stalks even had double ears!

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

We had a storm issue where some of the corn fell over (this is called lodging).

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

But I propped it, staked it, and it recovered.

I was just about ready to harvest it. I even filmed a little video where I felt around on the corn and said, “I think it’s just about ready…”

I was going to harvest our first ears the very next day.

But when I woke up in the morning, disaster had struck. Raccoons. They ate every single ear, stripped them to the cobs. They left nothing.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

“That’s okay,” my husband said. “There are immature ears still growing. We just lost the first round. This is why you staggered planting. It’s going to be okay.”

But that night, the raccoons returned and stripped the rest of the ears, immature and all.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

The corn has been a total loss. There were only 2 ears that we were able to save and eat. I had no idea that one animal could be so destructive.

We’ve had other pests.

A few slugs.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

A solitary tobacco horn worm that we disposed of with haste.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

But nothing has been quite as soul-crushing as the raccoon.

I tell myself that garden season has really just begun. There are weeks of harvesting ahead of us: tomatoes, more peppers, carrots, gorgeous herbs, but the loss of the corn really hit me hard.

I’ve got to keep looking forward, though. Tomato season is just getting into gear, and my vines are loaded with green tomatoes!

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

With gardening, there’s so much that’s outside of your control. It really puts into perspective for me what farmers deal with. A farmer I spoke to recently told me it is like planting dollar bills in the ground and praying they grow. Now, my little backyard garden is definitely not anything like a real farm, and I am not kidding myself that I can truly understand the feeling of risk farmers who rely on their crops to live really feel. But seeing just how fickle nature can be despite all the care you take helps give me just a glimpse of what farmers must go through on a daily basis. Wow. I sure am grateful to all the folks that grow my food!

July was a tough month, but I’m already looking ahead to the August harvest!

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Because of the work I do for Monsanto, I got the chance to take home some of the vegetable plants and seeds in my garden. I was not asked to write this post and all opinions are my own.

What’s Happening in the Garden? June Update

In June, the garden really starts rocking. See what warm weather veggies are taking off and which cool weather vegetable need to be taken out.

Our vegetable garden has really taken off in the last month, and the kids, especially Cricket, have had a ball taking care of it.

We had a few setbacks. Judy Hopps, the rabbit living under our deck, paid our tomatoes a visit one night and snipped off all the leaves.

Rabbit damage to garden Tomatoes

This was a hard blow because I grow paste tomatoes exclusively for canning my homemade pizza sauce at the end of the year, and most big box stores only sell slicing and cherry tomatoes. My husband called all over town to find a nursery that sells paste tomatoes and surprised me with them one afternoon after work. That’s love!

They new tomato plants are growing well. They’re getting tall and all of them have produced flowers.

garden tomato flowers

Some of them already have green tomatoes!

garden green tomatoes

We re-planted the strawberries this year to a different spot in hopes of containing their aggressive spreading a bit more easily. I hope the paper mulch I put down will keep them under better control. They got super invasive the last two years! We’ve already had a delicious round of berries, and we’re hoping the next crop comes in soon.

Spring Square Foot Garden strawberries

Cricket discovered pickled okra this year, so she decided that we had to plant some of that. I’ve never grown okra before, so it should be interesting to see what comes up. I remember as a kid having to avoid the okra in my dad’s garden because of how spiny it is.

Square Foot Garden Okra

 

Check out this huge pepper!

garden pepper sweet sunset

I kid you not, this beauty is 10 inches long! It looks like a hot pepper, but it’s really sweet. It’s almost ready to harvest. Once it blushes, I’ll pick it. I can’t wait to taste it!

We also grew broccoli. Briefly. Until the caterpillars got into it. I have never been able to grow brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.). The worms here are just too bad.

broccoli caterpillars garden pest

I ended up just pulling it out, chopping it up, and composting it. At least it will give back to the garden in that way.

By far, our most exciting crop has been the sweet corn! I had always thought that it was impossible to grow corn in a small space, but I decided that since we had an empty bed due to crop rotation, that we could give it a try.

square foot garden corn

Since I planted it, it has really grown!

square foot garden corn 2

I had some problems with the stalks getting yellow, but a good dose of Miracle Grow vegetable fertilizer seems to have solved that!

I can’t wait to eat fresh, warm from the sun, sweet corn this year! It truly is a family favorite!

Of course, I’ve also included some plants for the butterflies. This is echinacea purpurea, a Missouri native I got last year at the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House plant sale.

garden echinacea pollinator

Echinacea (also called Coneflower according to my mother) is not only great for butterflies, but in the winter, the dried seed heads provide an important food source for hungry birds!

I love growing food for my family, and I love teaching the girls where their food comes from. This garden season has been the most fun yet!

 

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Because of the work I do for Monsanto, I got the chance to take home some of the vegetable plants and seeds in my garden. I was not asked to write this post and all opinions are my own.

A Garden for 2016

I’ve been delaying and delaying on working in my garden this year, and I don’t know why. For some reason, the thought of all the work fills me with dread. Working in the dirt and nurturing the plants always feels so healing but this year, I just can’t seem to motivate myself to get out there.

There’s tons of work that I need to do.

  • Make new soil for the square foot garden
  • Pull out last year’s dead tomatoes
  • Pull out the strawberries which are just completely out of control and taking over both big beds
  • Move the trellises to the other side of the beds to rest the soil
  • Pull out the chives with the really weird leave shape that volunteered last year
  • Put down weed cloth because weeds. Ugh.
  • Decide what (aside from the 6 tomatoes and 3 hot peppers I ordered) I will plant

And on and on and on.

Maybe I’m just overwhelmed. Maybe every time I start to get spring fever, the weather pulls a 180 on me and gets cold again.

Right now, my garden is not the lovely, bountiful vision that I had when I built it. Yeah, I know. It’s still practically winter, but last year it wasn’t so great either. Maybe I’m just fatigued by the whole thing. Maybe it’s that I’m the only one in the family who’s excited about the garden. (Although, I would like to point out that everyone in my family appreciates the tomato sauce I put up in the fall!) Who knows. All I know is that I need to get my rear in gear.

Garden Planning 2015

Last year was my first real year to have a vegetable garden that was more than simply a collection of pots on the deck.  It was a great experience and I learned a lot of lessons.  I grew a whole lot of food and failed at growing even more.  So looking ahead to 2015 also means looking back.

Last year, my most successful crop was cucumbers.  This was both good and bad.  It was good in the sense that now I have a dozen jars of homemade pickles on my pantry shelves.  But it was bad because I have a dozen jars of homemade pickles and I’m the only one in the family that likes pickles.  I had a total of 10 pickling cucumber plants and they produced with an abundance that I simply could not keep up with.

Lesson 1:  Plant what your family will eat.

Another source of frustration for me were the pest issues I faced.  You might remember the squirrels who dug up all of my garlic last year.  They continue to be a major problem.  My bare, winter garden looks like the face of the moon.  It is full of craters dug by their tiny rodent paws.  To add insult to injury, just after my tomatoes set their fruit, a deer hopped my fence and ate the entire crop of green tomatoes.  The delicious pizza sauce I managed to jar came from store bought tomatoes.  Depressing.  Animal pressure is clearly a major issue for my garden, and I will need to take more aggressive measures this year if I want my tomatoes and all of my other vegetables to survive.

I’ve come up with some plans.  I’d like to make a small frame with chicken wire stretched across it to fit down over each my raised beds.  My hope is that I will be able to plant through the holes in the chicken wire, but the squirrels will not be able to dig in it.  As for the deer, I have a neighbor who has had great success with a motion sensor sprinkler, so I think I will try this.  The trick will be getting the angle just right to keep the deer well away.  I hope that between these two barriers, the deer and squirrels will look for easier places to cavort.

As for 2015, I’m going to narrow my focus on the tomatoes and plant mostly sauce-type tomatoes.  Burpee has a hybrid called Supersauce that promises huge fruit (one tomato to fill a jar!) and great taste.  Considering that my store-bought tomatoes only gave me 4 meagre jars of pizza sauce, the idea of enormous and prolific fruit certainly appeals to me.

I’m also going to plant more hot peppers for my husband who is a capsaicin addict.  We’re going to try Biker Billy, the same Jalapeno as last year, Diabolito, and one called Sweet Heat.  Hopefully that will satisfy my husband’s need to set his mouth on fire!

After the squirrel fiasco, I am not attempting garlic.  This has nothing to do with the fact that I put off ordering it until it was too late to ship.  Nope.  Definitely not.  But I did manage to get some shallots, so I’m giving that a try.

For the kids, I got some Bush Baby watermelon seeds.  I’ve never grown a melon, but it will be fun for the kids to give it a try!

As for my other plans?  I’m not sure.  I’d like to grow some peas and beans, but the rabbits hit them so hard last year that it hardly seems worth it.  Considering the extreme measures I am taking for the deer, I will probably try and hope that it helps, but the loss of the peas was such a bummer that I’m not entirely sure if I have it in me this year.  Broccoli and Cauliflower were also a major disappointment (thanks squirrels) because not only did they just stay thin and reedy, but the bastard squirrels dug them up, too.  I will likely try those again, however, and see if purchasing actual plants from a nursery works out better than attempting to grow from seed.

I’ve sketched out a preliminary plan for my garden.  You can see that there are lots of blank spaces still, but it gives me an idea where the big stuff will go.

2015 garden plan

I’m looking forward to spring.  We’re in the middle of rain and snow today, so sitting down and planning a garden helps me think of greener and warmer days.

Are you doing a garden this year?  What will you be planting?

Feeling Defeated in the Garden

The squirrels, caterpillars, birds, and rabbits are beginning to win.

Back in March, I wrote about the squirrels digging in the garden.  Since that post, I’ve tried a number of methods to drive them away: plastic owls, brightly colored pinwheels, repellent powder, and little bags of coyote urine crystals.

I’ve had the best luck with the coyote crystals, but they have to be shaken every few days (which is gross) and they smell (also gross) and they seem to be signalling to the dog that she can poop around and between my raised beds (grossest of all).

Still, I get the occasional excavation, which always seems directed at the roots, and last week something dug the last of my Fire ‘n Ice radishes, took a single bite out of each one, and cast the rest aside.

I’m picking loads of caterpillars off the cauliflower, beets, and remaining watermelon radishes.  While my daughters cheer at the sight of the pretty white, purple, and yellow butterflies flitting about the garden, I grit my teeth in suppressed rage.  As fast as I scrape the eggs off the underside of the leaves, the butterflies return to lay more.

My bush beans are toast.  As are my sweet peas.  Something is snipping off the shoots.  All of the leaves are gone from my beans.  Only stalks are left.  Toward the end of the week, I had managed to get the peas trained to the trellis, but this morning I saw that the tops were gone.  They had been mowed back to stalks and the pretty flowers with their promise of reward were decimated.  The leaves of my peppers have also been neatly snipped away.

I have no idea what is doing this.  Is it a bird?  A rabbit?  Something more sinister?  Was I mistaken in assuming that the family of robins that I welcomed at the top of the drainpipe would only eat worms and insects?  Starlings?

I shudder to think what will happen once the tomatoes and cucumber start to fruit.  If they ever get the chance.

Garden Pests: This Means War

I’ve always liked squirrels. I admire their take no prisoners attitude. I giggle at the way they chase each other up and down trees. I am charmed by their ability to steal birdseed from the most complex bird feeders. They’re cute, funny, and full of piss and vinegar.

We have tons of squirrels in our neighborhood. On most days, I can count six or more frolicking around my front yard. They drive my dog crazy. It’s funny.

 

But there is one squirrel that isn’t satisfied by the delicious acorns in the front yard. No. This squirrel comes to the back yard. Is she braver than the rest? A fearless ninja squirrel too fast and too clever to be caught by my dog? Is she an outcast squirrel, unwelcome at the party in the front yard and forced to run the gauntlet of dogs and owls in the back?

I’ll never know this squirrel’s story, but today she crossed an uncrossable line. Today she went too far. Today she fired a warning shot over my bow and in response, I’ve declared war.

Today, she dug up and stole one of my garlic cloves. One of the cloves that I planted in November and nurtured over the long, bitter winter. One of my precious few garlic cloves.

The war is on sister squirrel. My garden is at stake and you are not welcome to my vegetables.

 

Finalized 2014 Garden Plan

As promised, here is my 2014 garden plan!  I am very excited  I’ve already got a few seeds in the ground.  For a list of the specific varieties, check out this post: Gardening has Begun!

Seeds that are already in the ground include Super Snappy pea, Fire ‘n Ice radish, red Swiss chard, and Yugoslavian Red lettuce.  I’m staggering my radish and pea plantings, so I will plant a couple more squares of these in the coming weeks.

In the front yard I’ve also planted my (shockingly expensive) Comfrey seeds and my skullcap.  Healing herbs y’all!  Comfrey is going in the front because it is toxic and I don’t want the kids and dogs eating it.  That stuff is for topical application only (bruises, bumps, etc).

Garden Plan

Gardening has Begun!

Today is an outside gardening day!  Remember, I’m doing Square Foot Gardening, so my gardening notes will be specific to that method.  For a quick refresher, check out this post from earlier in the year: Garden Planning for 2014: Square Foot Garden Intro

I bought all of my seeds online this year after consulting local websites to find out which varieties grow best in my area.  Here is what I will be planting and where I purchased it:

Burpee

  • Artichoke: Lulu – 3 plants
  • Luffa – 1, seeds
  • Tomato: Black Krim, grafted – 3 plants
  • Tomato: Amish Paste – 2 plant, seeds
  • Tomato: Sunchola – 1 plant, seeds
  • Cucumber: Supremo Hybrid – seeds
  • Pea: Super Snappy – seeds
  • Lettuce: Yugoslavian Red – seeds
  • Lettuce: Braveheart – seeds
  • Radish: Fire ‘n Ice – seeds
  • Herb: Parsley, Single Italian Plain – seeds
  • Hot Pepper: Hot Lemon – seeds
  • Hot Pepper: Hot Jalepeno Early Organic – seeds
  • Carrot: Purple Dragon – seeds
  • Herb: Basil, Plenty – seeds, direct sow
  • Flower: Nasturtium, Vesuvius – seeds, direct sow
  • Strawberries: All Season Mix – 16, plants n/a
  • Flowers: Zinia, Queen Red Lime – seeds, direct sow

Seed Savers Exchange

  • Cauliflower: Early Snow – Seeds
  • Broccoli: DeCiccio – seeds
  • Cucumber: Parisian Pickling – seeds

Horizon Herbs

  • Borage
  • Calendula
  • German Chamomile
  • Echinacea Purpurea
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Balm
  • Marshmallow
  • Plantain
  • Skullcap
  • Thyme
  • Valerian
  • Comfrey
  • Feverfew
  • Thyme

According to my calendar, now is the time to plant cold weather crops like sweet peas, brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, and romanesco), beets, and radishes.

Today, however, in anticipation of a late snow tomorrow, I will hold off on planting and concentrate on getting Mel’s Mix (1/2 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 compost) into my last 2×6 bed.  I also need to complete the construction of my trellises.

For the trellises, I am following Mel’s directions almost exactly.  I constructed the frame out of 1/2″ electrical conduit that I had the people at Lowe’s cut to size for me.  I fit that over 48″ long rebar that I drove one foot into the ground.  I am tying nylon vegetable netting onto that frame.  Easy!

This is important:

One error I made with my original garden plan was failing to take into account the shadow cast by my trellis.  I had originally planned to put my trellises at the back of the garden beds.  Turns out, that’s the south side.  Bad idea.  So I am switching the trellises to the other side of the garden so they won’t throw as much shade over the plants.  This necessitates changing up my garden plans a bit, so once I get that finished, I will post the final garden plan for you all to see.

Planting too late. But you can see what an SFG looks like with the grid and the Mel's mix in place.
Shade is not my friend in this garden as I learned this fall.

Anyone else excited that gardening season has finally arrived?  How are you celebrating the return of Spring?

GARDEN PLANNING FOR 2014: SFG Design and Companion Planting

Thumbing through seed catalogues is both fun and overwhelming.  It’s got me alternating between pulling my hair out and rubbing my hands together with glee.  It’s hard not to feel in over your head if you’re starting your first real garden in a completely new climate, and you’re not sure what to plant, when and where.

Luckily, square foot gardening (SFG), which I talked about in my previous garden planning post, makes things much easier.  It’s just a matter of mapping out your squares!  And that’s exactly what I have been doing over the last few weeks.

A simple google search found a wonderful online SFG planning tool, which has been easier than graph paper for the time being.  It’s called the SFG Planner, and it allows you to draw your beds  and plug in what you want to plant  It even tells you how many plants per square to put in.

I started making my list of what to plant, and I really did stick with the advice to plant what you will eat.  This coming year, I will be planting:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Peas
  • Cauliflower
  • Radishes
  • Swiss Chard
  • Broccoli
  • Romanesco
  • Parsley
  • Marigold
  • Hot peppers
  • Garlic
  • Strawberries
  • Bush beans
  • Carrots
  • Basil
  • Nasturtiums
  • Cilantro
  • Lettuce
  • Watermelon

Seems like a whole lot in a very small space, but with the creative use of trellising for the vining crops, we can go vertical and gain lots and lots of space.

You may also notice that the plants I listed above are not all vegetables and fruit.  I’ve included several culinary herbs and a few flowers, but they all have a use.

They are all companion plants!  That is, they will help the other plants by repelling pests and helping to improve the soil.  For example, marigolds drive away any number of pests.  Not only that, but marigolds are… calendula!  Which is a wonderful healing herb with many uses for children.  Nasturtiums also repel pests and the flowers are good in salads.  Radishes repel cucumber beetles, and lettuces and nasturtiums improve their flavor and texture.  Basil makes tomatoes tastier.  And the list goes on!

Having my gardens laid out in squares makes companion gardening easy and allows me to plant friends close and keep enemies (like strawberries and broccoli) separated.

I still haven’t settled on the specific varieties that I will plant, but for the time being, this is a general look at how I will plant my garden in spring:  SFG Planner – Design Square Foot Garden online 

Have any of you started garden planning?  What’s going in your garden next year?  Have you had good luck with companion planting?  I’m eager to hear about your experience!