What will your 2021 vegetable garden look like? Where will you source seeds or plants? What new crops are you interested in planting this year?
All these questions are on the minds of many gardeners this time of year. In 2020, there was an unprecedented interest in all types of gardening since most of us had a lot of time at home. All signs indicate this trend will continue in 2021. So, whether you are ready for the gardening season or not, now is the time to start planning.
My mailbox has already been flooded with seed catalogs full of beautiful pictures of ripe veggies and sunshine. It is always a great boost to flip through theses catalogs this time of year and dream about the growing season to come. With demand for seeds rising again this year, it is wise to make decisions and place orders very soon.
Anyone who ordered seeds in March likely found some plants hard to come by. Many varieties simply weren’t available, and it was especially difficult to find some of the less common plants.
For example, “sungold” tomatoes are a family favorite at my house, but those seeds just were not available after about mid-February of 2020. I was lucky enough to find some seedlings a little later in the year at a local garden center, but they were sold out before I could place a second order to fill in a few that were cold damaged.
Don’t forget that local garden centers also offer a wide variety of seeds each spring. Just last week, I noticed one display going up. If the trends from 2020 hold, these seeds will go quick, so be sure to collect yours soon.
As I look toward garden planning this time of year, many of my decisions are based off what I planted last year. Crop rotation is a very important aspect of maximizing vegetable production, pest control and soil health, if designed correctly.
Following my crop-rotation plan tells me which veggies to plant where in the coming year and how much seed to buy.
My vegetable garden consists of six or seven beds, based on how you look at the layout. Although I have started to work toward a standard-sized bed, three of the existing beds are slightly larger than the others. So, as my rotation moves to the larger beds, I have more room for that particular crop.
Where last year was a large potato patch, this year will be an especially huge tomato and pepper planting. While I kind of like the variability from year to year, it requires some special attention. So, we are working toward a more standardized bed size to help with planning crop rotation and may redesign some beds this year.
Another trend from 2020 that I anticipate seeing more of in the 2021 season will be gardening in containers, which introduces a whole new level of flexibility when compared to traditional, in-ground gardens. Just about any vegetable crop that can be planted in the ground can be grown in containers.
Unlike my in ground beds, containers can easily be moved if plants show signs that they need more or less light or other environmental stresses. Additionally, containers can open up a world of gardening to those who can’t accommodate the footprint of a traditional garden due to space constraints. They can be placed on front porches, balconies, driveways or just about anywhere with good sunlight.
I just love all the flexibility containers offer, and despite having a traditional garden, we typically plant a few that sit on our patio each summer. They are great for keep easily accessible veggies close to the back door and my kids have really enjoyed selecting and planting veggies in their own individual container gardens.
For more information about container gardening with veggies, including specific recommendations for soil media and pot sizing for specific crops, please visit University of Illinois Extension’s container-gardening website at go.illinois.edu/ContainerVeggies.
Ryan Pankau is a horticulture educator with UI Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. This column also appears on his ‘Garden Scoop’ blog at go.illinois.edu/GardenScoopBlog.