Many of us while away winter evenings by planning next year’s garden. But by then, all the important information that we need to weigh is long forgotten. So instead, begin planning now, using this year’s garden as a reference point.

Perfect time

Most crops are either fully mature or well on their way to maturity by now, making this the perfect time to assess how much or how little to plant next year. For instance, I had wondered if one GrowBox (commercially-available, self-contained planter) of broccoli would be sufficient for my needs. As it turns out, it was. This one planter has not only yielded six large heads of broccoli, but also more side shoots than I can eat. I’ve even given some broccoli away. So unless I develop a taste for frozen broccoli and began putting it up in the freezer, one GrowBox more than suffices for my fresh broccoli needs.

Carrots, one of my perennial favorites, are important to me. My results over the last few years have been less-than satisfactory, however. So this year I decided to plant in a new location in a raised bed with deeper soil. And now that my carrots are maturing, I see that even this bed has a problem. A nearby flowering crabapple tree casts its shade on half of the bed. Consequently, only half of the carrots are up to muster regarding size.

My choices are few. Either plant in a new bed next year, or cut down the flowering crab. The tree, though, provides cover for songbirds and also, gives up its nectar to wild honeybees. Cutting it isn’t an option. So instead, I’ll plant heat-loving crops in the sunny half of the bed and use the shaded section for leafy greens such as lettuce and Good King Henry, a wild form of spinach. My carrots will go into an entirely different bed, one with full sun. If I had waited until winter to make this decision, my memory of conditions may have become hazy. But now, my choice is cast in stone.

Here’s another situation the memory of which may become clouded over time. I love green beans and always plant several varieties. In order to ensure that my supply remains constant throughout the season, I always plant more than needed. But that’s a bad decision, since it makes it harder to tend them. The fewer rows, the easier to maintain.

So because of the success of this year’s garden, I’ll plan on growing a reduced amount of beans next year. That way, watering and weeding will be easier and I’ll still have enough for home canning and fresh eating.

Canned tomatoes

My tomato plants are struggling under their load of near-ripe, plum-type tomatoes. This variety lends itself to home canning and also, makes for neat sandwiches, since they are very meaty and not as juicy as beefsteak tomatoes. I find nothing more unappealing than a soggy, dripping tomato sandwich. This circumvents that situation.

But my three plants probably won’t give me enough fruit to put up as many jars as I would wish. One more plant would do the trick. This can go in the same bed as the other tomatoes and will replace a row of Swiss Chard. Parting with that small amount of chard won’t hurt a thing, either, since I have found that what was planted this year produced far more than was needed.

Specifically, I planted several rows of chard in a raised bed in front of my house and then devoted a GrowBox to chard as well. The GrowBox, with its system of automatic fertilizing, has grown the biggest chard I’ve ever seen, huge leaves that look like elephant ears. This one box gave me enough chard to run a whole canner full of jars and new leaves continue to sprout even after a severe harvest. Chard, for some reason, is hard to give away.

So deleting a row or maybe two of chard will still leave me with plenty for my purposes and the extra tomato plant will give me that many more fruits for home canning. Again, this could easily slip from memory between now and next season, so I’m making the decisions now, based on firsthand evidence.

New plants

Each year I like to plant a new and/or different vegetable variety. This time I put in Good King Henry, mentioned earlier, Mexican tea, a member of the goosefoot family with a pronounced odor of camphor and well-suited for Mexican cooking, Japanese parsley, a plant most useful for its stems rather than its leaves and eggplant, something that I’ve not had much success with in the past.

The verdict on these “newbies” is an A+ for Good King Henry. I’ll add another row next year, since it puts out new growth all season and has a pleasant, spinach-taste. Mexican tea, which could end up self-seeding and becoming invasive, will still have a place in its container. The dried leaf has an even stronger aroma than the fresh product and it goes well with a lot of my favorite dishes. I don’t like the Japanese parsley and won’t plant it again. As per eggplant, this time around it went in an EarthBox Junior, a similar system than the GrowBox and with a filler pipe rather than an exposed lip. One eggplant each is all one of these containers can handle.

Each individual eggplant has become so fruitful that it looks as though it can supply all I’ll ever want for fresh eating. And just to think, these were only planted in July, after being purchased half-price at the local greenhouse. I’ll plant eggplant again next year, this time a bit earlier, but still in the EarthBox Junior.

Squash changes

My winter squash crop of this year has cemented my decision to change the way I grow squash. My typical method involves adding lots of rich compost to the raised-bed squash bed and planting a handful of seeds. When the squash begins setting out vines, I keep these trained so that they grow around the bed rather than going straight out from it.

However, despite these efforts, grass and weeds grow up among the vines, preventing me from getting to the bed itself in order to pull weeds. Consequently, my squash bed and also the vines, are overgrown with weeds and there’s nothing I can do about it. Even worse, whatever squash might be there are hidden by weeds. This makes them prey to voles, little rodents that love to make tunnels through the weeds so they can chew on my squash unseen from above.

The solution to this will require the purchase of a large section of either black plastic or perhaps black landscaping fabric. The fabric would go over the raised bed and I’d plant the seeds in holes cut into the fabric. Also, I’d set a section of fabric completely around the bed so that when the vines creep out, they would be open to inspection because of a lack of weeds.

Besides all that, weeds compete with squash for available nutrients and this plan would end weeds in my squash patch altogether. So for this year, it looks as though I may need to buy some winter squash to supplement my crop. But next year will prove an entirely different ballgame.

All this planning and deciding is made possible by studying my garden in its current state and noting well what I observe. And when it comes time to plan for next year’s garden, I’ll just open up my saved version of this column and all my directions will be there for me to see in black-and-white.

Today’s tip

We still have time for late-season planting. If some of your crops, green beans for example, have gone by, just pull them up and plant short-season crops such as loose-leaf lettuce or radishes in their place. And even if the radishes don’t become big enough to eat by the time of first frost, remember that radish tops are as good as or better than turnip greens. Just pull, cut up and simmer. You can even leave the small radishes on the plant. It makes a vitamin-rich, healthful meal.