There's been a flurry of gardeners coming into my store recently as the summer season changed to fall and it's time for lettuce, spinach, kale, radishes, and broccoli again. In addition to helping them know which crops are right for planting now in metro-Atlanta, I'm also spending time advising people on the different configurations and quantities they can plant, based on their desired outcomes. And it occurs to me that just as there is no one way to skin a cat (or so they say), there is no one way to plant a garden. Here are three different strategies you can use, based on your specific needs:
1. The Do-Nothing Garden. Not really looking to do much but plant and go? Well, I have a three-season-solution for you. Give it another week or two and pop in garlic, and lots of it. You buy whole heads of garlic (we have a bunch of varieties in our store) and then break it into its individual cloves and remove the papery outer coating. You then plant the cloves pointy-side-up about as deep as each clove is big (that's a general planting-depth rule for seeds) and about four inches apart (they don't take up much space). Water, and pretty much forget them. Well, maybe water occasionally. You'll see little green shoots start to sprout in a few weeks, things will kind of stagnate over the winter (mulch around the shoots with crumbled leaves), and then the shoots will grow into stalks in the spring, finally exploding in what's called a garlic scape topped by a Dr.Seuss-like flower. The stalk will eventually fall over around June, which is your sign that the garlic is ready. You just pull them up, shake them off, and hang them to use as needed (you can braid the soft-necked ones--you'll see what I mean once you grow them).
2. The Abundant Fall/Winter Garden. Looking forward to salads straight from the garden? It's that time of the year again, and daily rewards are right around the corner--or, rather, right outside your kitchen door! Plant a row or two of lettuce and spinach transplants, and then a package each of lettuce, spinach, and arugula seeds. Add a package of radishes, which grow quickly and are nice shaved thin in a salad, and you'll have a delicious and healthy base for adding nuts, seeds, and raisins to make hardy cool-weather salads. Also, a spinach-like plant named tatsoi really likes our climate and is easy to grow from seed, and it even keeps going when it's snowing if you give it a little protection with specially-made row cover fabric, through which sunlight, water, and air penetrates (we have it in our store). Don't worry about planting things closer together than recommended on the packages--you'll be cutting leaves so often (the plant will keep growing when you do this) that they won't crowd each other out.
3. The Plant-for-Spring-Now Garden. Believe it or not, you can actually plant your spring garden now. Long-season crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, kale, and collards get planted now, require a bit of care and will yield some harvests this season, and then benefit from our typically-brief cold snaps as this sweetens them (you can do arugula, kale, and collards by seed, but the rest need to be transplants). Then, as soon as we get those glorious sunny days in February, when it's really too soon for spring seeds (which are the same as fall seeds, by the way) to germinate, your crops will surge with new growth and your spring garden will be already well-established. See the photo above for about how many of these types of plants you can fit in a 4' x 8' raised bed. A bunch!
Of course, you can mix and match the strategies from each of these plants to create the garden that's perfect for your needs. Grow what you like, try something new, enjoy our four-season growing climate here in metro-Atlanta, and keep the salad dressing handy!