Prepare a Calendar

I find it very helpful to cut up a calendar and piece it together so that the months form a planning chart that can be seen at a glance. Use one of those free bank calendars. Indicate your frost dates for spring and fall; then you can establish when to plant your seeds and transplants (both indoors and outdoors) in relation to these two dates. This all sounds like a lot of work, but it's really not. In fact it's almost as much fun as looking through the seed catalogs in midwinter and deciding which seeds to buy for the coming year.

If you consult the charts on continuous harvest, you'll be able to plan how often you should replant the various crops. If you rely solely on watching the growth of your plants, you're going to get fooled. Seeds take a long time to sprout, and the seedlings seem so small that there's a tendency to wait until the plants become a "decent size" before you put in another crop. But keep in mind that you want to deliver this crop weekly, so you must plant weekly. Of course if it's one of the continuous-harvest crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, or peppers, you should consider an early-, mid-, and late-season crop. All these plants have a peak period of harvest, and if you put everything in at once, you'll be overwhelmed during the few weeks of that harvest. To avoid this, you should stagger your plantings by a few weeks, or you can spread out your harvest by planting early, mid-season, and late varieties all at the same time.

Set up a complete schedule for seed starting and transplanting indoors, growing time for seedlings, setting outside or transplanting into the garden, growth to maturity, and expected dates for harvesting. Naturally, your crops will vary a bit from this schedule depending on growing conditions, but this will give you a rough idea of when you can replant each space with a new crop.

To determine when it's safe tostart, look up your area on the frost maps to find your average last spring frost and first fall frost. Mark those dates on your strip calendar. The time between those two dates is your frost-free growing season.

Keep in mind that the frost charts are only approximate, based on averages calculated over many years. In fact, the criticism has recently been made that these charts are based on data that are extremely outdated, and that many do not include the last twenty to thirty years of weather data. Although updating probably wouldn't change them very much, keep in mind that your actual dates are going to vary by one or two weeks in either direction.

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