Book Review: The Family Garden Plan
“Growing a garden is as much food for the soul as it is for the body.” p. 5
Whether you have been gardening for decades or this is your very first year, once the Christmas decor has been packed away (or maybe even before!) we find ourselves pulling out the garden seed catalogs, graph paper, and spreadsheets. It feels so good to look through pages and pages of colors (especially GREEN) in the middle of a white, cold January in Michigan.
We combat the lack of sunshine by dreaming of sun-filled summer days. We dog-ear catalog pages, circle plants in Sharpie marker, and wonder if we can find the space this year for just one more variety of tomatoes. And then we order ALL the packets of seeds that catch our eye, because they’re only a few dollars each right?
But Melissa K. Norris — homesteader, podcaster, and author of three books — makes the case in her newest book that ordering your seeds for the year should actually be the last step in planning your garden.
The Family Garden Plan: Grow a Year’s Worth of Sustainable and Healthy Food is a 222-page, full-color paperback book that I believe should have a place on every gardener’s shelf.
Many gardening books available today are either aimed specifically at those just beginning, or at the seasoned gardener who wants to go deeper. This book, however, bridges the gap between the two, offering something for everyone.
“I don’t believe it’s possible for one book to cover every area of gardening; exhausting every facet of composting, permaculture, and seed saving are all separate books. But I will cover what you need to know to have a solid foundation to raise your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs from planning and planting to harvesting… Whether this is your first year or you’re a gardening veteran, planning will serve you well.” p. 7, 11
Roughly the first third of the book is dedicated to actual garden planning — and this is the part of my own copy of the book that contains the most dog-eared pages. Melissa breaks down the planning process into a handful of steps, all of which include charts and pages to write down what you learn as you go:
- Look through your pantry and freezer for which foods you eat on a regular basis.
- Identify which of those foods you can actually grow yourself, based on gardening zone, microclimates on your homestead, and season extenders.
- Plan your space, including tips for growing vertically, using raised beds and containers, and traditional in-ground gardening.
- Determine how much of each type of food you should plant to feed your family for the year, and if you have the space to accomplish it.
- Choose your seeds.
My favorite part of the entire book is pages 62-66, where Melissa has already done all of the research and put together charts of how many fruits and vegetables to plant per person in your family.
For example, if your family eats an average amount of sweet corn, and your garden is able to produce an average amount of ears per plant, you should plan to grow 15 plants per person. That means 75 plants for my family of 5… and since I know I don’t have the space for that, I’ll stick to buying my corn at the farmers market and use my garden space for something else.
Of course many factors will affect how much your garden will actually produce, but it’s wonderful to have a place to start.
After the book’s planning pages, Melissa goes into detail about how to actually plant a garden. From seed starting to direct sowing to winter sowing, both beginner and advanced gardeners will find valuable information and ideas. Pages 97-99 also contain charts of common vegetables and herbs and recommendations for when to start them indoors and when to direct sow, plus space to record the dates that you’ll be on the lookout for to plant in your own gardening zone.
More tips follow on things like naturally controlling pests, disease, and weeds, and the basics of composting. You’ll also find helpful advice on curing vegetables, and some very basic information about preserving.
The pages on harvesting and preserving your crops contain helpful charts once again (pages 129-136) — this time listing how and when to harvest each one, and converting fresh volume of produce to canned and frozen amounts (for example, a bushel of green snap beans will become 15-20 quarts canned or 30-45 pints frozen).
Finally, the book includes a whole chapter dedicated to planting and caring for perennials such as berries and fruit trees, and another on growing and harvesting herbs.
The “Advanced Topics” chapter describes soil testing and amending, crop rotation, and companion planting — all with even more helpful charts. There are even a couple of pages in the very back of the book with graph paper, to sketch out your own garden plans.
One other thing I do want to mention — Melissa is a Christian, and each chapter begins with a Bible verse. She also writes a little bit in her introduction about God as the Creator, but those are the only mentions of faith I’ve noticed in the book.
The Family Garden Plan is unlike any other gardening book I’ve ever seen. It’s a one-stop shop for both the basics of gardening and ideas for how to make your existing garden plan even better. The charts featured throughout the book allow me to answer all of my questions about planning, planting, and harvesting without pulling out multiple books or going on internet rabbit trails.
What are you excited to grow in your garden
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