Gardening is a wondrous thing. You just go to the gardening center and buy whatever looks good. You put seeds in the ground and plant some plants. Voila! You have growing things and eventually, some produce to eat. Gardening just seems that easy, doesn't it?
Reality check! You spent all that money on seeds and plants. You watered. But your garden isn't growing very well. Some of your plants have died. Whole rows of seeds didn't come up. Rabbits ate your tomato plants. Your garden is starting to look like a disaster!
Most people have this idea that you can just stick some plants and seeds in the ground and you have a garden. I read about a lot of people who plan to garden after some disaster, but never have gardened before in their life. I read about how they used to garden with their grandma 30-40 years ago and they think they still remember how to do it. Most people do not understand that gardening is more than planting.
You need to start planning and prepping your garden now if you want a successful garden later on. You can do things now that will ensure success this summer and will yield a better producing garden for years to come.
How do you start planning and prepping your garden now? There is still snow on the ground and winter is still here! Trust me, there is a lot you can do now!
1. What planting zone do you live in? You need to figure that out. That will make a difference in when you start plants, when you can put certain plants in the ground, and what you can plant. Not all planting zones are equal. Some plants do great in zones 7-9, but won't even work in zones 3-5 without a greenhouse and a lot of coddling. You may be able to start planting some cooler crops in April in zone 5, but wouldn't even consider it in zone 3. Check out your planting zone here!
2. What do you want to plant? Look at what you eat. You might want to try all these cool vegetables you find in the gardening centers. However if you or your family won't eat them, then you just wasted time, space, and money. Do you eat a lot of salads? Plant lettuce mixes, spinach, radishes, cherry tomatoes, etc. Do you use pizza sauce, pasta sauce, and salsa? Plant tomatoes, peppers, oregano, onions, etc. Look at what you eat.
However, don't be afraid to try 2-3 new things just to see what they are like - just don't go crazy and plant several rows. A couple of plants each will do just fine for experimentation!
3. When should those plants and seeds go in the ground? Make a schedule of when you should be starting plants in the house and when plants and seeds should be planted outside. If you don't want to start your own plants, that is fine. It is a skill you should learn but can be intimidating for a beginning gardener. However, make a plan for when you should be planting in your garden. Find out when your frost date is for your planning zone and make a plan from there. Some plants can handle being nipped by the frost, but a lot of plants can not!
4. Plan out your garden on paper. You know what you want to plant, now how do you want to plant them? I would recommend getting the book Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening. Some plants should not be planted beside other plants because they will not grow well together. You also need to research how much room your plants need to grow. Sometimes you can plant closer together, but squash, pumpkin, and cucumber plants will need room to spread out.
5. Are you considering edible perennials? Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, asparagus, and more are great additions to any garden. You might want to consider planting these outside of the garden, but definitely, include them in your gardening plans. Any plant that can produce year after year with some minimal maintenance is a great idea.
6. Do you currently have a garden? If you currently have a garden, you need to add to your soil. Compost, manure/used bedding, and peat moss will help get your soil into a growing state of mind. If you are not sure what your soil needs, take a sample of dirt to your local extension office to get it tested. Most soils will need some kind of fertilizer whether it is organic or non-organic. You can add compost or manure to your garden now by just laying it on top. You can always till it when the ground thaws.
7. Do you need to dig a garden bed? Are you considering raised beds? If you are starting a new garden or building raised beds, map out where you are putting them in your yard. Do some research on your soil and what you may need to add to it. If you are starting raised beds, you will need good black soil, compost or manure, and maybe a little sand to keep the soil from compacting. Make sure your new beds are big enough for what you want to plant or you may need to amend your planting plans.
8. Do you need a tiller or do you need to find one to rent/borrow? I firmly believe in tilling the garden every spring to loosen up the dirt and break up the first weeds trying to grow. I have heavy black clay soil so it needs to be broken up every year. If you don't have a tiller, you need to find one to use. A lot of rental centers have them available for a couple of hours or half days. However, you might be able to find someone to till your garden for you which is great! They might want some compensation, but would be cheaper than buying or renting one.
9. How do you plan to manage weeds in your garden? You do this in a few ways. You can weed the garden yourself which can be great therapy. You can lay mulch down, but research what plants like to have as mulch. You can lay plastic or cardboard down between the rows to block out weeds. Figure out what works for you and how much time you have on hand to weed the garden.
10. How do you want to water the garden? As much as it would be nice to have a gentle rain soak the garden a few times a week all summer, that is not going to happen. Last year, we had one wet month followed by one and half very dry months. We ran hoses and sprinklers to the garden to water. You need to have a plan for watering the garden. How will you do it? Do you have an outside water source or will you be hauling buckets of water? Can you add an outside water source (faucet, rain barrels, etc.)? Some people use a drip system or soaker hoses to water their garden which would be worth looking into?
This covers the basics of gardening and getting your garden started. The goal of gardening is to produce vegetables and fruits. From someone who has been gardening for awhile and learned the hard way more than once, you will have successes and failures. Your first-year garden may not be the best garden, but there are things you can do to ensure good results.
Thanks for reading,