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.
I'm Catherine, a small-space urban gardener in New Jersey (Zone 7a) who started gardening out of upcycled wooden wine boxes. For years, I wanted to try gardening, but didn't know where to start. I got up the nerve to give it a try - starting small with a single wooden wine box that turned an idea into reality. That reality quickly turned into my filling every sunny inch of space of my postage-stamp size lawn and turning it into a garden oasis. I grow mostly vegetables and herbs with some exception for fruits (when the squirrels and rabbits don't get to them first). I love learning from gardening communities (and lots of trial and error).
I hope one day to take all that I'm learning and apply it to a larger plot of land. To help me get there, I'm extending my learning through the University of Massachusetts, Stockbridge School of Agriculture's, Sustainable Food & Farming program. (I'm addicted to learning as much as I am to gardening.)
This blog isn't just for gardeners (although I hope it inspires some of you to try growing a plant or two). The recipes (food & cocktails) in theRecipes section of this blog contain ingredients that don't have to come from your own backyard. If you like visiting your local farmer's market(or even your grocery store) and would like to get some new recipes you can use with the fresh produce and herbs you get from your local growers, this blog will have plenty for you too.
In addition to gardening and cooking, I also love to visit and photograph my surroundings. I feel fortunate to have so many amazing places here in New York/New Jersey, where I live and work. Visits to local farms, farmer's markets, and cycling through rural farming areas help me feel connected and refreshed. share these experiences in theExploring section of the blog so that you might visit through proxy or be inspired enough to visit yourself.
With very few exceptions, all of the photographs on this site are ones I have taken myself. (For the photographers out there, I shoot with a Canon 7D and sometimes with my Lumix DMC-ZS15 compact camera.)
I hope this blog inspires you to grow, create, explore, and try something new. The best way to stay up-to-date is to follow me using the social buttons above, or click Subscribe and sign up for my email newsletters.
Happy Gardening and Healthful Living!