Amidst all the chaos and celebration that surround the holidays, the constant threat of winter snow and the warm meals and fireplaces, now seems almost an impossible time to begin choosing your seeds and planning for your garden. It will be a few more weeks until the seed catalogs begin to arrive in the mail, but now is the time to make a plan, evaluate your supplies and renew equipment and make a resolution to keep records of your garden this year. In these economic times, planning and growing your own plants and vegetables can save you money and feed you and your family!
Make a Plan
If you’re gardened before or been around people who garden, you’ve no doubt heard the stories: houses filled to the brim with garden produce; more money being spent on extra ingredients to use up the produce than it’s nutritionally worth; or neighbors dreading your approach with bags of excess vegetables to give away. Conversely, there are also tales of hours upon hours spent to harvest one lone pepper, or tiny flower blooms and a handful of beans. this is why careful planning is important to the success of any garden.
To begin, get a blank piece of paper, graph paper is an even better choice. Draw an outline of your house, garage, storage areas, swing sets, deck, trees, and any other existing landmarks in your yard. Don’t forget to include walkways and sidewalks. You should also include existing flower beds or gardens. If you have children or pets, think about high traffic areas. you wouldn’t want your carefully planned beds to be the designated 50-yard line of the neighborhood football game.
The next step is to determine the path the sun travels across your yard and which areas have sun and which have shade. Color in the areas of your yard that are mostly shaded. Make notations for areas that get morning sun, afternoon sun and full sun. This is important because the amount of sun each area receives will determine what you can plant where. Also take into account tree foliage. The trees may be bare now, but they won’t be come spring.
Next, mark any areas that drain poorly, contain sprinkler systems, irrigation or faucets. Plan accordingly so plants that need more water can be easily reached by a hose or a sprinkler and plants that don’t like their feet wet aren’t planted in poorly drained sites.
Finally, mark the locations of windows, doors and outdoor sitting areas. Different vantage points are an important consideration in planning your gardens.
Now comes the fun part — choosing plant types and flowers. Attach a sheet of transparent tracing paper over the map of your property. By doing this you can create several different designs and evaluate your plan based on your needs. Some variables to consider:
- How much time do you want to spend maintaining your garden? Perhaps a smaller garden with fewer weed and insect pests will be not only more manageable but give you more produce and pleasure.
- What type of growth do you want from your flower beds and what kind of appearance or cover are you trying to create?
- How much usable lawn area do you want left in your yard?
- What color scheme(s) are you trying to create?
- Are there any difficult growing areas in my yard and do I want to save time and resources by avoiding them altogether.
- Will it be grown once a season? Will it be planted early or late? Can it be planted in succession?
- Will it be grown from seed or transplants?
- If you’re starting your own seed, what will you need?
- How much are you willing to plant? How much do you want to harvest?
- When will you direct seed/plant? Planting during suggested time periods will maximize the lifespan of the crop?
- If you are growing vegetables, where will you plant each vegetable? In which bed?
- When you’re planning your garden, remember crop-rotation helps minimize insect and disease problems and is a key factor to successful vegetable gardening.
Keep your plan and any other reference material close at hand by finding a centralized area, box or drawer to keep organized and know where they will be of use not only this season, but next season. The important thing is to remember to keep it fun and enjoyable. Add your own personal creativity and preferences. Your garden is constrained only by the limits of creativity and the length of your growing season.
Evaluate Your Supplies
If you are like my mom, you always have a stash of seeds from previous years lurking in drawers, pots, and garden books. She always means well to use them, but always forgets in the rush of spring planting. Winter is the perfect time to evaluate, prepare, and organize your supplies for the busy spring planting season.
Let’s start with your seeds. What better way to get excited for spring than to get excited about planting. Gather up all the loose seed packets in your
house. Empty every hiding place where they may lurk and gather them into the area you plan on organizing them. Take time to sort through the packets, eliminating empty envelopes and finding expired seed packets. Seeds may still be usable after the “use by date,” but the chances of germination decrease with time. If you’d like to test them, try sprouting a test sample by rolling up 5-10 seeds in a damp paper towel and placing them in a resealable bag. Store it in a cool, dry place for one week. If the seed produces less than half-sprout, ordering fresh seed will be necessary. If you find you have extra seed or packets you don’t plan on using again, don’t just throw them away. Organizing a trade among friends and neighbors is a great way to try new plants and not let usable supplies go to waste.
A great project for the long winter months is cleaning, repairing and evaluating garden tools and pots. To clean rusty clay pots, add one cup each of white vinegar and household bleach to a gallon of warm water and soak the pots. For heavily crusted pots, scrub with a steel wool pad after soaking for 12 hours. Once the pot is cleaned, soak it for 15 minutes in a bucket of clear water to remove traces of bleach that may be harmful to plants. If you have time this winter, paint the handles of garden tools. This will not only preserve the wood, but choosing a bright color will make the tools easier to locate when they go missing in the garden.
Add garden record-keeping to your list of New Year’s resolutions. note the varieties of flowers and vegetables that do well in your garden, as well as growing techniques and fertilizer treatments you’ve tried. If you don’t want to use the traditional
paper and pen method. You can join a virtual universe of gardeners by keeping a blog on sites like Blogger or WordPress. Using the internet, you can also bookmark articles, sites of interest, and reference materials, right from your home. Remember to take photos and document your success along the way. These records will be invaluable in planning for future seasons as it is custom tailored to your garden.
The benefits of starting early and being prepared are countless. By staying organized, doing research and developing a plan, you will not only reap what you sow, but you will have more time to enjoy your garden and will find greater success in doing so!
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