Planning Your Garden
I love the start of the gardening season. It's filled with so much hope and optimism. It's the moment your seeds turn to seedlings and they start to resemble their future selves with their true leaves. It's the moment you see promise and hope in the coming months. "This year will be even better than last," I always think at the start. Unfortunately, it takes more than crossing your fingers to carry through the season (although, I swear for me, that's 80% of it).
My first year of gardening, I turned my small sunroom into a greenhouse...or so I thought. Most of my seedlings got spindly. This was likely due to insufficient light. I thought all the windows would be enough to provide the light, but during late winter/early spring, there's simply not enough daylight. The one thing that did OK was basil.
The following year, a kind soul gave me an old grow light set to get started with. This was a big change for me - worked like a charm. I scaled back on how much I grew from seed but it turned out to be successful, and I eventually graduated to a grow light that was less of a fire hazard and then recently scored a giant grow light a local neighbor was discarding in bulky waste. It works, but she couldn't use it. I'm eagerly planning what to start planting in winter/early spring for next summer.
The time for preparing for the summer growing season may have passed, but a few tips to think about for next year:
- Start planning in winter.
I love getting seed catalogs in the mail in the dead of winter. It's a bit of torture knowing how long I have to wait to really get my hands dirty, but after clearing the snow for the 20th time, it's a welcome distraction. In about January/February, I start making my lists and planning where everything is going to fit. Just draw it out on a piece of paper - you don't need high-tech for this.
- Start your seedlings indoors.
Much of what you'll grow may be transplants or direct sow in the ground when it's warmer, but if you plan on getting a head start with your seedlings about 6-8 weeks ahead of the last frost. (Tips for predicting frost.)
- Take a good, hard look and start cleaning/pruning.
Go outside. I know it's too soon to plant, but Rome wasn't built in a day. Start doing some cutting back and pruning earlier than your planting. I tried doing it all in one day this year and had to schedule a chiropractor visit, a massage and a hot bath to get started on curing my aching back.
Clear remnants of old plantings, repair containers for use and check your soil - maybe add a little compost and fertilizer to the mix as you near planting time.
- Prepare your beds/containers
Because I use wine boxes, which aren't exactly intended for sitting outdoors in the elements for long periods of time, there's often some repair work I need to do to make them worthy of using for the season. Any whose bottom has degraded or are too split to use, I part ways with. It's not worth it to repair those, but even some of the newer boxes need reinforcement. I find that the corners split first, so I picked up some corner brackets from the local hardware store like these, which worked like a charm. A hammer and nails also do the trick in some cases on other planters.
- Plant, plant, plant!
Whether you started your seedlings indoors, purchased transplants or are direct sowing, it's time to dig in. Check your seed packets for guidance on how to space the seeds if you're direct sowing. Don't think you have to do everything in one day! It takes me probably about 4 weekends to get everything in the ground. When gardening isn't something you can do every day because you have another job or life responsibilities, it's impossible to get everything done in consecutive days. Plant a little bit each week and give yourself a little break.
- Don't neglect issues
Keep on top of plants that aren't supported enough or leaves that start showing signs of pests or disease. A few techniques I employ throughout the season:
- Neem Oil. When I witness spots on tomato leaves or leaf miners on my chard, it's a good organic alternative to pesticides.
- Blood Meal. A great fertilizer at the start and throughout the season.
- Egg Shells. Tomatoes love calcium. In the winter, I save my eggshells and grind them up. I add them to the soil when I transplant my tomato plants and then again throughout the season. I've used this technique to address Blossom-End Rot.
Despite the work in preparing for the season ahead, preparation can mean the difference between success and mediocre results in the garden.