How to Schedule Plantings for Year-Round Garden Harvests

Getting timing right is a major factor in a successful food-producing garden.

seedlings in little pots

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One of the things that new gardeners most often ask me is how they can work out when to sow what, and when to undertake key jobs in their garden. 

Getting your timing right is one of the most important factors in determining how successful you will be in a food-producing garden. Of course, your gardening year will look different depending on precisely where you live and on what you choose to grow. But these tips may help you to create your own timetable for year-round growing in your garden.

Establish the Basics

In order to begin to create a timetable for your gardening year, you will first need to make sure that you know:

  • Your climate and typical conditions to be expected throughout the year, including: 
  • Temperatures—not only the minimum temperatures to be expected in the coldest times, but the highest temperatures in the warmest months, too;
  • If frosts are expected, and the first and last frost dates in your area;
  • Average precipitation levels and how these differ throughout the year. 
woman waters plants in greenhouse

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Consider Which Growing Method(s) You Will Use

Establishing the basics is just the beginning. Your gardening year will also differ depending on which growing method(s) you have chosen to use. 

When we talk about creating a timetable or calendar for the gardening year, we are most often talking about growing annual or biennial crops. But timing for gardening jobs and harvesting is important in perennial growing systems, too. 

You'll have to think about whether it's possible to grow outside all year round or if you need to create undercover areas for year-round growing. In cooler climate zones, a greenhouse or polytunnel can significantly extend the gardening season and may allow you to continue sowing and growing throughout the winter. But this will alter timings somewhat due to the conditions created by such structures. Typically, you sow earlier in spring and are able to leave crops in the ground for longer at the end of the season when growing under cover.

Decide Which Crops and Varieties to Grow

You must decide which crops (and varieties of those crops) you will grow in order to work out what you have to do when in your garden.

Remember, though a certain crop—like tomatoes, for example—will usually be sown and harvested within a certain time period, the precise timings will depend not only on the conditions but also on the variety that you grow.

The time from sowing to harvest is a key factor to determine for each of your crop choices if you want to create a timetable for year-round growing.

Determine the Broad Outline of the Gardening Year

In a predominantly annual system, the broad shape of the gardening year is usually determined by sowing times. 

In temperate climates, you will usually sow the largest number of seeds in spring. However, you will also need to think about sowing in summer and fall (for winter and spring harvests, often growing under cover) if you want to continue eating from your garden.

Even in colder climates, you may sow in winter when growing indoors. Succession sowing throughout spring and summer is often used to increase the length of the harvesting period for particular crops. So, each crop might have multiple sowing times every few weeks over a certain period—not just one specific time to sow.

Warmer climate zones often have two key sowing periods—one in spring for warmer season crops, and another for cooler season crops in fall. 

Wherever you live, the key thing is to plan so that you have living roots in the ground over as much of the year as possible. Whenever a space opens up in your garden through harvesting or a season coming to its end, you should have another plant or plants ready to fill in the gaps.

With predominantly perennial growing systems, such as food forests, the gardening year is dominated not by seed sowing but by harvesting periods. And though there will be far less maintenance overall, there will still be a calendar of gardening jobs to consider, especially before the system is fully established.

Working from the broader patterns to the details, you will slowly be able to piece together a more detailed plan.

lettuce under plastic bell jars

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Look Further Ahead

When working out what precisely you will grow in different growing areas throughout the year, it is important to look ahead to the coming years as well.

When you are growing year-round, it is vital that you consider how fertility can be maintained within the system—both through the planting you choose, and through mulches and other organic means. 

In annual schemes, summer crops should be replaced either by winter ones or by cover crops. Then new crops will be placed in the spring. It is important to make sure, too, that you do not grow certain families of plants in the same place year after year. You can integrate the ideas of crop rotation with year-round growing if you plan and prepare in the right ways.

Understanding the above, while working to create the perfect timetable for your garden and for the place you live, can help you stay on top of things.