Garden? What? If you are like me and have looked out the window today, you are probably wondering, as the snow flurries drift down, why I am talking about gardening. It seems like a colossal waste of time. Most people are still in some form of hibernation mode.
But, if you want to really get the most out of what you grow, you have to start early. Really early. Before the ground has thawed and there is even a hint of green, most farmers are already planning crops, starting seeds, and prepping their beds. By the time they can transplant outside, their plants are much, much closer to producing food. And this equals more food with the time they do have to grow.
The first thing that has to happen before anything else is planning. It is a really good idea to know how much space you have to work with, what plants grow well where you live, and even the kind of soil you are going to be working in. So, let’s get started.
There are some fantastic websites out there designed to help you plan. One of my favorites is Smart Gardener, mainly because they have a great free basic membership that gives you a lot of options. And if you want to get some of the add-ons, most are less than $3. Definitely not going to empty your wallet.
This website will ask for how many people you are trying to feed and what hardiness zone you live in. Once you get this information in, it will walk you through creating a garden plan that lets it know the size garden you are working with. There are options for planters, pots, or in-ground beds. Finally, you pick your plants and record when you planted them. From there, the website does all the work. You’ll be told when to transplant outdoors and when you should be able to harvest. You can even get reminders to water, prune, or mulch your plants. To me, it is the epitome of working smarter, not harder.
Of course, you can always go with plan old pencil and paper. Some grid paper would be helpful for planning. It will just require a lot of leg work on your part. If you are interested in this method, leave me a comment and I’ll be sure and write a separate post for that.
If you hate starting seeds, fail miserably a lot, etc, then buy your plants from the garden center nearest you around the beginning to middle of April and skip past this section.
This is a big step, and it can be equally daunting. I have been gardening for as long as I can remember, and to me, starting seeds can be the most confusing. Some seeds need light, others don’t. Some have to be soaked. Some get planted deep, an inch or more. Some should just be scattered on top. And don’t get me started on planting them at the right time!
Of course, if you use Smart Gardener, than a lot of this is answered for you. But I wanted to include some other great sites specifically for this. Also because there is so much information out there, I don’t want simply keep rehashing what has already been said so well.
- Garden Guides – This site is a wealth of information for all things gardening. They offer a very simple explanation of some of the things you’ll need and how to actually plant your seeds.
- You Grow Girl – These girls are fantastic! They keep things very simple, but also include some nice DIY ideas as well. They also have some great charts to help you get your seeds started if using the pencil & paper method.
Let’s talk dirt. No, not gossip. I mean what you have in your pots or beds or planters or whatever. If you read some of the above articles, you will see that you need good soil just to get your seeds going. To keep them going, you will need to keep your soil at the same level.
If you want, you can simply plow up a part of your yard and move on. But, as we learned in January, good soil=good food with lots of nutrients. Your yard has been sucking nutrients for years. (Also, you will have a lot of invasive weeds. That is NOT fun. Trust me.) I suggest making a soil mix that you can use instead. This is especially useful if all of your soil is clay soil, which is like trying to plant things in a brick. Doesn’t really work and your plants end up not producing. They use all their energy just trying to put roots out.
I personally like Mel’s Mix, the guy who started Square Foot Gardening. It allows plants to grow easily, is also super easy to pull weeds from, and has a lot of nutrients from the compost. It can get a little pricey, if you are buying the compost. So, be sure to shop around. Better yet, look into composting yourself. That, my friends, can be done for free.
Even though the ground is hard now, and unworkable, I am suggesting this so you can go ahead and have the mix made. Last year, I tried making patches while I was working in my beds. I ended making a lot of trips with my wheelbarrow and my back ached for days. This year, I want to have a lot of it ready to go.
Are You Ready?
I know that I have barely skimmed the surface of getting started, but, as I already mentioned, I also don’t want to simply repeat what others have said. Check out the sources and start working on your plan. Also, if you do join Smart Gardener, my user name is sweetangel273. I would love to link up! (Just be aware that I haven’t planted anything yet.) So, leave a comment with what you’re planning or any questions you may have!