Smart Start Garden Planner 2017 Your Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Season | Megan Cain

Megan Cain From the Creative Vegetable Gardener

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Smart Start Garden Planner by Megan Cain

Megan Cain Smart Start Garden Planner

I certainly aim to have a garden where I can get the most out of it possible for the least amount of work. I have a pretty big garden and I love gardening but I also have a job and a busy life so I like to set my garden up and I’m getting a lot of joy and a lot of food from it and not feeling like it’s taking over my life and I have to spend every single day in my garden.

I talk about how to help people set themselves up with less of the things we don’t like, like weeds and pests, and mistakes and other stressors and more of the things we love the beauty and food and the good insects and the things that bring us back to the garden year after year.

Creative Vegetable Gardener Facebook Page Megan Cain

Excellent. I know you have a great Facebook community where people can learn more and I’ve lots of guests talk about how  much they have learned from you and your books and community.


Reflecting on Last Year’s Garden

I do start the book out with a little bit of reflection. I think it’s valuable to just pause a little bit and think about the previous season year before you start planning for this upcoming season. There’s lots of worksheets so it’s all about the reader. I can’t fgirue out what your goals are so it’s all about you figuring out your own personalized garden

  • What were your successes?
  • What do you wish you did a little bit better

no matter how you are gardening

New Experiments

There are  things you always want to do differently. One of the most fun things about gardening is it’s cyclical you get a new year fresh slate each year… try new experiments … some work out and some don’t … cathartic a little bit… you can forgive yourself and …. things you didn’t want to do … releasing it all and spring is a fresh start … repeat the successes

When thinking about your garden and life vision for the year…. what kind of lifestyle do you want gardening to create for you this year… for a lot of us when you get into gardening it’s more then just a hobby and past time, it bleeds into your whole life and becomes like a lifestyle… stepping back and looking at your life holistically and thinking about about what role you want gardening to play.

What do you want to grow!

Thinking Strategically

I encourage people to think a little more strategically, I have a pretty big garden and even I don’t have room to grow everything I want to grow

So I encourage people to look at

  • their eating habits
  • grocery store cooking habits
  • what would you eat more of  it it was less expensive

What are some of the the meals that you cook the most, what ingredients could you potentially grow for yourself, so  say you cook a lot of pasta with tomato sauce… maybe one of your priorities would be to grow tomatoes and grow enough to freeze sauce for enough for pasta dishes all season long

How to get the most bang for your book, what do you buy from the grocery store, what’s most expensive?

  • what would you eat more of  it it was less expensive

Blueberries is my favor ingredient to my smoothies. This year they are really expensive, this time of year, I wouldn’t buy them for my smoothy, but I go and pick and  I don’t even grow them, I picked like 25 lbs last summer and froze them all and so I’m eating them all year round… hopefully they will last till July!

So I encourage people to think about

  • what you want to grow…
  • why you want to grow it…

I love all of that and how you are tying it in to your lifestyle and what do you want it to look like… I’m gonna turn 50 this year,  because I’m really focusing on my health and eating, I tried the Food Babe’s sugar detox and now I’m back to struggling again with the whole sugar eating balance… but I am super stoked and get eat healthy, thinking about planning my garden and planning what’s gonna grow in it this year. Thinking about what you are shopping for, what are you excited about next year I definitely have some of those ideas…. where should we go next, do you want to talk about something your excited about next year?

Adding Flowers for Color

So one of the things I’m excited about doing in my garden…

I always order a lot of flowers, to compliment my vegetable garden… I mix a lot of flowers. I have a very visible vegetable garden, it’s in my front yard, side yard, I live on a corner… There’s lots of walkers, lots of dog walkers, and bikers and  lots of my neighbors come by, I try to make my garden really beautiful as much as productive…

So I try to think of more ways to mix in flowers, mostly annuals … I always plant flowers on the ends of my beds, I’ll sprinkle flowers seeds, I’ll save a little bit at one end and pop in some flowers…  mix different colors and textures…

I planted a a whole bed of peppers, then I planted a row of flowers kind of the short way along the bed, then I planted  second half of peppers and so i broke up this whole long bed of peppers, even though I think peppers are beautiful. so it just put a pop of color in the middle of that bed

Lacinato Kale with Salvia Megan Cain

I like to experiment…

Last year I planted a row of salvia along with my how they go with my Lacinato Kale has a blueish gray tint to it, so I I treat vegetable gardening, like my perennial garden

what vegetables I can plant next to each other, wll set each other off and how can I mix flowers and vegetables together.

I relaly like the design part, and form and how thing go to gether. 

I take a lot of photos, most of the photos in my book are taken by me in my garden so that’s part of my motivation

how can I set up these really pretty scenes and details and how can I capture them for my website and my blog! 

I think at this time of year, I live in Madison WI, it’s really gray and everything’s dead and most of the snow’s melted and this is when I think about how much I miss my vegetable garden and how much joy it brings to my life and aesthetically I walk to and from my house and I realize that that color and life adds such a layer of joy to my life throughout  the season…. I can’t wait spring! When that all comes back, the texture and insects and colors etc…

People might be surprised about that and thinking about putting flowers and vegetables together. Where do you get your annuals, do you grow them from seeds or get starts?

Where do you get your annuals

I have a little section about growing flowers for beauty, my five favorite annuals for the vegetable garden. 

I grow some of the easy ones:

  • zinnias
  • salvia
  • celosia
  • rudbeckias

I have a nursery that I like not too far form my house, I always go there every year, I have actually discovered a lot of my favorite flowers from them… they have arelly good annuals, sometimes I’ll buy a flat of mixed annuals

less expensive way because I don’t have to commit to a whole seed packet …

Last year I bought some globe amaranth, some can be short but these were tall, and I planted them in area, they almost looks like a tight little pompom and they are the ones I planted with my peppers…

I usually grow a red one I saw they had an electric purple I think that’s a keeper, maybe I’ll grow, I think I did order the seeds, for 2-3 $ try a new annual then if you like it you can integrate your seed starting….

I kind of do a mix, I run out of room often for seed starting…

That sounds pretty and like a lot of fun! Am I right that they are good for bees and beneficial insects too? 

There’s also amaranth, it get’s the big feathery flower that’s maybe what you’re thinking of… 

I ran a kids garden program, we planted a bunch, we had it, it just reseeds itself, they produce 1000s and 1000s of seeds. Moved away from that amatanth, I grow the globe kind that doesn’t produce nearly the same amount of seeds… but if you want to grow the other kind you will probably have it for life and just need to pluck out in the places you don’t want it… not just beauty for the pollinators and the beneifical insects …

Last year there was this cloudy day, the insect activity was amazing, I ended up I called my husband out and we just stood there it was like the garden had it’s whole energy that was just beating thgouthout it this insect activity … flitting from flower to flower, flying all around, energy moving through the garden … really cool to watch… 

INSECT trouble

If you have some problems with insects the ones you don’t want in your garden, you can kind lucre the insects you do want in with flowers!

Always extciting to hear that! Im sure listeners know some of that… it’s always encouraging to do anything to to put flowers in your garden and make it more beautiful anything to encrouage beneficial insects. ..

I’m scrolling through your book, there are all these great checklists and worksheets. I love the vegetable worksheet, this is what I’d like to plant and place for notes… What things grow in your area, and I just ordered seeds from Bountiful Gardens and mike was like why did you order this it won’t grow here…

People from all over the US, I’m shipping the books out from my house, self published,,, all over the US an Canada, certainly we live in different zones, so you want to make sure….

Zone Correct

I live in zone 5 A so if you live in a zone somewhere near mine, if you live in California, or Florida, or Texas or maybe a high alpine area, you might have things that you can grow where you don’t if you live in a short season area, there’s only so much I can say about that, so you’l have to do a little bit of diggin around in your local area …

Local growers in your info, go to the farmers market, what food are you selling…. hopefully it’s a producers only farmer’s market… I’ve been to markets where you can sell bananas, the Minneapolis…

IF it’s a producers only markte you’ll have  farmers in their area selling stuff that they grow…

ways to get

Farmers are professional

I used to work on some CSA farms, I learned about

I still go to my local farmers market, I like to check out what people have at certain time of year, so I check out what they have… especially in the spirng because that’s when I’m needing it the most…

  • how did you get kale in May, 
  • when did plant this?
  • what variety of tomatos are you growing?

That’s a great way to get information and I actually talk about this more in the chapter on Variety… When it comes to variety for your garden …when you open a seed catalog or if you get more then one, you’re staring at 1000s and 1000s of variety and I get really overwhelmeed! 

Variety really does make a difference, I am continually testing varitiesies in my garden… 

there’s a lot of variety that don’t perform to my standards, and then I just get rid of…. others I plant over and over again year after year… it’s wroth the effort to tract and record

over time fill your garden with that work really welll… I sitll get red pepper, Jimmy Nardelos peppers I’m always gonna get peppers no mater what the season, weather, I know I’m always gonna get peppers.

  • what’s your favorite pepper variety?
  • what carrot variety do you grow?
  • I was having problems with brussel sprouts

I went to the farm stand,and he had all these great  my brussel sprouts stink this year, and I asked him… he gave me the variety they grow and  I think they were growing Naltic, and Nustus…

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

what are they having success with…



I actually wrote a blog post about this, someone posted in one of the Facebook groups, she had a garden plan, with a map and she was really organized, she had 10 tomatoes all the same variety I think Brandywine,

four rows of bush beans, kentucky wonder, I don’t recommend all your eggs in one basket, by

if your planting 10 tomato plants you should have a variety of tomaotes, can kind of pick up the slack, they are having a problem, all of the tomatoes are splitting on one variety

not a lot of vegetables that I am growing only one variety

and it’s fun to try different things

6 different kales, and 8 different peppers

I plant 35 pepper plants, red ones and organic ones and little ones and big ones, even if you have a small garden, 2 of one, 5 different varieties… what varieties work in your garden.

Narrow down what your favorites are

good performing

top perfromers

foundation what I can always rely upon, or ones that look like fun, some of the varieties I really like to keep

Veggie essentails. I’ve been teaching a lot of different parts of it, it was inspired by my lovely younger sister who lived in

concrete patio out back, had to grow in containers, it was fascinating the different questions she would ask me, when I plant and onion how many onions would I get…

in a subconscious way… if I plant one onion…. a kale I can go back to

all the way I can go back, one plant is proviing lots of different harvest

if I plant one onion that was so fascinating that she asked me that,

one onion you get one noino, then I’m not gonna plant it

the different characteristics of vegetables

what you can expect what season are you going to harvest

take all these different characteristics of vegetables

I think it’s different

I love planting onions I usully plant between 300-500 onions

I would rather plant chard

and harvesting over and over

I try to break down the different categories

what that means for garden planting… inform your decisions

in the back of the book there is a table and you can look up onion…

palnt one harvest one,

you get it in the summer

it takes this many days to harvest

all the info you need about a vegetable s

so you can personally evaluate

weather or not you think it’s worth it to grow

really experienced gardeners think about and its more intuitive

when your learning

when your learning …. light bulb moments… hopefully it’s a fresh way to look at all the different vegetables and help you figure out what you want to grow this season.

Mike and I have been working on a pdf called Awesome ways to save time in your garden … and I think my last tip is use a CSA and he said isn’t that for people who don’t grow a garden? I said no maybe you to supplement your garden or someone else is good at growing potatoes… it keeps reminding me of that Book a Farm on the Roof, where Anastasia says even though the roof is the size of a football field, they still have to haul all the dirt up there and how long it takes to grow a squash plant the amount of space it takes for a squash to grow and I also remember my friend Mary St Jacques I went to school with, said take pictures because  it’s important to think about how big the plant is going to get… and I always do that with mike I see the plants spread out and think we can squish more in…. so Anastasia says they don’t have the soil to dedicate to something that’s going to use a lot of space and not produce very much and for me, I’m gonna try to grow more squash this year because in that detox I was telling you about the reason I was able to stay away from sugar was because you ate squash almost every day and that was your sweets and I have been trying to buy squash and boy are they expensive! So I think having your table in the back of your book that worksheet is really gonna help people! So whether you have ea mini farm or your going to the market, or your busy like me, Mike’s been gardening for years but I’m still new at it….

I would agree squash as a rule that even though I have a big garden it’s a big plant and you don’t get that many per plant so over the years I have decided Im gonna go to the farmer’s market and

buy it form the farmer’s market and grocery store and because the squash is like a $1 a squash so I go with a bunch of crates and store them in our basement and we’re still eating squash we got at the market last summer.

And the same with melons, I know that they use black plastic…. cabbage is another one… it’s so inexpensive at the farmer’s market, is it worth it for me to grow cabbage, where it takes so long 65 days and I can buy it at the market for $1….

another thing… Mike has had always had problems with cabbage, not so much any more but he would always get tons of bugs and I think that’s really frustrating too…

So yes, if you’re having struggles with something year after year it’s ok to let it go… and don’t grow it anymore…

Focus on your strengths…

Especially if you’re an organic gardener and you don’t want to use chemcials. In my last garden I had really bad potato beetles… just horrible and I didn’t want to go out there every day and pick potato beetles and I just said I’m not gonna grow potatoes anymore and go to the farmer’s market and grow potatoes… So if there’s a pest that’s really bringing you down and your plants, it’s ok to let it grow and I’m just gonna let it go…. and focus on something that’s grows really welll…

As gardener’s you realize how much work it is to grow food, I end up appreciating the farmer’s i my area, I know it’s a lot of work … I end up appreciating them and I think about the people who do it every day for their professions…. I have a lot of respect …. it gives me joy to go to the farmer’s market and give them some of my money and I know what a hard job it is, people choose to go to the market and grow food for us and I value what they do…

And they might enjoy growing the food they take the time to make a business out of it, because some people might say that’s the ideal life, I don’t mind the hard work…. but they’re willing to do the parts maybe they don’t like…. like I don’t like going to the farmer’s market and they’re willing to go there and show up so if you see things and think they are kind of expensive just appreciate they are there and pay it!

So I end the book with my encouragement for readers to keep some simple records, doesn’t have to be complicated… one thing I realized over the years I would just stick the tags in the garden thenthe tags would be gone or faded and I didn’t really know what was what and if I planted something that I didn’t like, I wouldn’t know how to avoid it next year, and vice versa if I [planted something that is really good and said this is my new favorite I wouldn’t know what it was so I decided

I need a better record keeping

I drew a map with a piece of paper

and I made a bunch of copies and I thought what should I do with these copies so I can always find them? And that was my first garden binder … so I punched a couple of holes of my map and put them in a binder and now!!!

my binder is my little book

that I carry to and from the garden every time I go out to pant,

the date, the variety, how many seedlings, these varieties on my map where I plant everything… the date really helps year to year fall spinach, the best time to plant them…. for example fall spinciah…now I know if I plant it the best if I plant it the 3rd week in august and I know that because of my records…

variety also with spinach

I realized that in the spring Bloomsdale would alsways bolt, spdning up seed heads to flower

bloomsdale bolts before all the other varites… I thought I’m not growing it anymore so I’m not growing it in spring because it bolts way before all the other varieties…

I lonely knew that amounts as well,

we gardeners who start our own seeds

end up with 80 plants but I know the best number for me is no more then 15, I am not going to have 80 pants … I used to have about 40….

I had 25 start

I only want to plant around 15 if I have extra plants, it’s too many tomatoes I don’t use them

what you have had too much of, and in a way that is a waste of time and space and effort and weed

So if you are growing things that you end up composting or rot in your fridge

I usullay don’t use anymore then 8 plants worth, I make pesto, I use it all season…, I don’t need 20 basil plants helps you streamline… helps you pay attention year to year

the most successful gardeners are people who make a plan a simple plan and are  prepared for the season, pay attention to their gardens to bulid on their successes and get rid of what’s not working…

why plant a variety or too much of something

it’s kind of a bummer or you feel guilty cause you’re composting too much basil.

You want to feel good and have energy so tweaking it over time so it really serves you

going back to your eating habits….

cooking habits

You can com up with your own little garden formula

this is my base formula that always works for me and every year

and then try different things….

Another recent blog is that you you don’t have to grow everything every year,

okra is fun to grow but

chard I don’t grow every year

cabbage some times I grow sometimes I don’t,


shifiting things

I always grow garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and onions and greens, there’s always things I always grow…

it’s fun to grow once and a while but I don’t need them every year

for me it open’s up some space to try some new things

Im not permanently giving up the things… 

It probably also helps your soil with putting different nutrients in your soil, and that’s another part of record keeping part of organic gardening is rotating your crops right and if you have those little diagrams you can see what did I grow here last year… aren’t there things about your not supposed to grow green beans two years in a row or corn….

yeah, that’s a good point, record keeping is important

it’s a little bit more difficult if you have a small garden but really what you don’t want to do is plant anything from the same family in the same spot year after year …

So if for example you plant tomatoes the next year you don’t want to plant anything in that family

solinacia family eggplant or tomatoes or potatoes or tomatitos…

easier if you have a bigger garden it’s easier if you keep records… I can’t remember

That’s really important you think you’re gonna remember, and for me even a week laster, if I don’t go out and record right away I’m like what did I do… I think I’m not gonna forget but I always do! I have years of garden books back form what we planted way back from 1991…. I just sketch the areas each year…. Mike’s every eyar, I know plant my sunflowers on earth day every year and Mike’s like are you sure, it seems early, and I’m like yep, put them in they can take a small frost and if I don’t why won’t produce seeds, if I don’t get them in by April 22d they’ll flower but I won’t get seeds….

A few years ago I planted 750 sunflowers and I know the brand and variety and days to harvest and that’s another thing… do you put the harvest date, because that’s a big one for me I forget a lot but wish I had… and do have for a lot 1st pepper or peas…

I don’t really, I take a lot pictures… so sometimes I can go back tot eh pictures and see when I have to

I was gonna say that oto… I have gotten really slack with my digital camera…the guy who runs my podcasting group, last year he came out with the Freedom journal which is all about accomplishing your number one goals and he uses these smart goals…

Once you figure out what you are going to grow, when you are gonna plant things, if you live in a short season, timing is everything…

We had that problem last year…we missed a lot of windows… but another thing that’s gonna help you is, the last few years we’ve been having these early springs and people are chomping to get out and plant in march and having that journal is going to help you see, because you can put things in the ground you’ll find if you don’t wait for that soil to warm up and things you plant later will do better and will even catch up and outgrow…

A farmer that I work for they would try to get their peas in as early as possible and then plant another round of peas 3 weeks later, over time she realized the 2nd round of peas always germinated better, and they caught up to the first planting, and sometimes it was worse because a lot of the first peas didn’t germinate and she realized it’s not worth it to plant as early as possible but regardless of the weaterh, with climate change things are strange we can have a 70º day I get all these emails, are you planintg? And I’m like no Im waiting. you might lose things. you might need to protect things… it’s not gonna stay 70 through april and may, you can plant things. and know that they might be stressed if it gets cold so there’s definitely a delicate balance between planting early and not planting too early….

Anything else you want to talk about I have had so many guests recommend you and your blog and garden are just so beautiful and elegant.

If you learn about gardening in a community it’s more fun and you also learn … you can sign up for my email list at my website at Creative Vegetable Garden and you can sign up for my newsletter, I send out one email a week with a timely gardening topic.  I have a private Facebook group that is free with hundreds of gardeners from all over the world where we share tips and tricks…

if you’re interested in my smart start garden planner you can buy it as a print book and the ebook and the print book… creative vegetable gardener forward slash/smart-planning you’ll see it there’s also a thing that brings you to the book…

I’d love to have some of your readers going my coming

continually get better and grow more food and have more fun, have more beauty

I think gardening is such a special part of life, let it be, can affect your life in wonderous and joyful ways…

Do you want to win a copy of Megan’s book. Just go to her Facebook Page and enter your biggest take away from this episode in the comments section and you’ll have a chance to win a copy of the Smart Start Garden Planner EBook by March 1st.

Smart Start Garden Planner by Megan Cain

About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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