I stayed up late last night working out the garden plans for the year. Here in Zone 8b, I like to divide the vegetable gardening into three seasons: spring, fall, and winter.
"Season," of course, doesn't refer to the actual astronomical seasons; instead I use it as a kind of rough term denoting the time of year when that particular garden is planted. The "spring" garden season is the largest, encompassing things planted anywhere from early March through May. These are what the LSU Ag Center calls the 'warm season' crops: tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, peppers and the like. My "fall" garden actually starts in July, when I plant pumpkins and winter squash, but extends through October, with onions, the first batches of greens, etc. The "winter" garden starts in November and goes through January; it's when I plant most of the greens as well as the garlic and, at the tail end, the potatoes.
Experience has taught me that the vegetable planting guides you find online are nearly useless down here. You know the ones I mean: the Better Homes and Gardens or otherwise flashy websites, which were designed for zones 6 and lower. The planting dates on these tend to run anywhere from 1-3 months behind what's appropriate for south Louisiana. They plant tomatoes muuuuuch later, for example, like May or early June. If we planted our tomatoes in early June here the plants would laugh at us before giving us the finger and promptly dying in the heat. (Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a wee bit). My point is, no matter where you live, you should always check with your local extension office or Ag Center to find out when the right time to plant various things is where you live.
Even with all that due diligence, however, nothing truly beats knowing your own land, intimately, like a dear friend you've become close with. Specifically (and perhaps more practically), this means knowing your soil type, average frost date, local pests, etc., but it's more than that. It's noticing that first browning leaf, and being able to diagnose whether the problem is pest or soil; it's understanding the relationship between soil and microorganisms, and knowing when that balance has been disrupted. I could go on, but, to some degree, it's an ineffable thing, this connection. You only get it by being there, day after day, elbow deep in the life of the garden.
As you can see, I'm a firm believer in working with the land, as opposed to beating it into submission. How often do you hear about "knowing where your food comes from?" Generally this refers to consumers being acquainted with their farmers, but, if you're growing the food yourself, shouldn't it apply to the land as well? After all, you are asking it to sustain you and your family, not just for a single year, but for many years.
Since the day we moved in I've watched and recorded the weather, dug deep and gotten to know the soil, learning its needs and wants. I know every tree, every patch of wildflower on my property. If something's amiss I know it immediately. Call it mystical, or call it just plain old fashioned good gardening policy, but I think it's the key to living sustainably in the long term.
In any case, for reference's sake, I'm including a photo of my spring garden plan below. I'll add the others as the wheel turns. I'm trying hard this year to restrict myself to vegetables and fruits I have a reasonable expectation that my family will eat; I have a habit of growing things just out of curiosity and ending up with bushels of something I have to donate because no one here likes any of it. So, my goal this year is to simplify. We'll see how it goes. The software I use for the design is called Garden Planner. It's pretty good, easy to use, and there's a free trial. Find it here.