How To: Start Planning Your Garden
It may feel too early to be bringing this up (or maybe I'm just wishing this winter weather would go away), but it's time to start thinking about your spring/summer garden. Yep! Even though we seem to be struggling to stay above 25 degrees and it seems to snow every day, spring is on the way. So, it's time to look at your snowy backyard and dream about what you want to enjoy from your garden in a few months.
I've been gardening or trying to garden for a few years now. I started growing a few things in pots and small boxes. Once we did some work in our backyard and built a nice, sunny place for sitting outside, I thought it was time to get serious about gardening. I inherited an Earthbox from my Mom to start (she swears by them and now I do, too). Now, I have seven Earthboxes a couple of Junior Earthboxes and started growing wildflowers in planters. I'm not an expert but there are a few things I've learned along the way that helps me coax the best out of what I grow around the sometimes crazy weather we have.
I thought I'd share a few things to do as you start planning your garden whether it's your first garden or you've been gardening for years.
Last Day of Frost
When you get the itch to dream of warmer days in the middle of February, check when the last frost will be for your area. The easiest way to check is on the Farmer's Almanac website. It's not 100% accurate but it gives you an idea if spring is going to be early or really late this year. The last frost date is what you will use to determine when you should start any seedlings inside and when you can direct sow cool weather vegetables. Living in Chicago and near the lake, I sometimes have to wait until Mother's Day to put things outside. It's just a little more time for the seedlings to grow!
Another data point to look up is your grow zone. This map provided by the USDA tells you what grows where you live. The last thing you want to do is try to grow something only to learn your climate doesn't support it. Your grow zone also helps you set up your seed planting calendar.
Once you have your last frost date and you are 2-3 months out from the date, it's time to check your supplies. Are you getting another Earthbox? What refill supplies are you going to need for existing boxes/planters? Are you starting seeds indoors? Do you have seed pods or another medium for starting seeds? If you need a checklist to help remember what you need, I like to shop with Gardeners. They have starter kits and checklists to help make sure you are ready to start your garden.
Plan Your Garden
Now is the fun part, plan your garden! Are you growing vegetables? herbs? flowers? For garden plants, I like to shop with SeedsNow. I found them a few years ago and I've never had seeds not grow to giant healthy plants. I love that they are Non-GMO, heirloom seeds, too. They have a ton of varieties to choose from and continue to add more every year.
Don't forget to check what grows best in your grow zone. Both the University of Illinois Extension (for grow zone 5 & 6) and the Farmer's Almanac are great sources to help identify what grows where you live.
If you want to support keeping our food supply diverse and healthy, you can look for seed shops that sell varieties that are facing extinction. An organization charged with keeping a catalog of seeds we need to cherish is The Ark of Taste. In connection with SlowFood USA, you can take a look at their catalog to know what varieties of seeds to look for or they often have seed packs that you can pick up each season. Other growers like 7 Row Seeds have similar charters.
So, shop away! I think it's important to keep in mind the following:
1) Grow what you'll eat
2) Plant what will grow in your space
3) Think a little into the future now and have seeds ready to go through the summer and fall
Now that you have your plan, supplies, and seeds, it will soon be time to start mapping out your planting calendar. We'll tackle this topic in my next blog. Be sure to sign up for my blog if you'd like to be notified of my latest posts.
So, what are you planning to grow this year?