Come Grow With Me

Happy Friday!  I’m so glad that it’s Friday but I am seriously starting to get tired of cold weather.  I’m sick of being freezing all the time and I’m especially over my winter wardrobe.  I’m ready for short sleeves, capris and skirts.  Most of all I’m ready for some SUN.

However, even though it’s freezing outside, now is the time to begin planning the 2010 garden!  And that helps me get through these late winter doldrums.  I’m super excited for my third garden.

Thinking about starting a garden?  There are so many advantages to starting a garden like:

  • Fresh vegetables right outside your back door – you’ll have a healthier diet
  • Reduces your carbon footprint – food doesn’t have to travel as far to get to your plate
  • Great exercise – all that walking, weeding, bending, raking and stretching burns calories
  • Saves money – growing food is cheaper than buying it!

If you’re interested in having a garden this year, start planning for it now.  Planning is key to gardening.  To begin, ask yourself these questions:

1. What vegetables do I like to eat?  It seems like common sense, but the last thing you want to do is grow a bunch of turnips if you don’t like turnips.  They will just become compost (unless you can give them away).  It’s really easy to start adding tons of veggies to your list when you are looking at seeds.  I know because I do it too.  I want to grow everything!  It is fun to experiment with one or two new veggies each year, just don’t go crazy.  I started out with tomatoes, bell peppers, bush beans, basil, watermelon and eggplant in my first garden.

2. Do I have a good area for a garden in my yard?  Or do I have a sunny deck or patio for a container garden?  Gardens need to be in direct sunlight for several hours a day.  The more sun the better I think.  So pick an area that is not shaded by your house or large trees.  Or that is not shaded for most of the day.  If you don’t have a suitable space, there might be a community garden in your area where you could grow some veggies.

3. How much space do I have for my garden?  My yard is just shy of an acre with most of it in the back.  So I have room for a rather large garden.  Most people don’t have that much space.  But you can fit a lot of veggies in a small space with careful planning.  How big you make your garden also depends on the next question:

4. How much time do I have to spend on my garden?  Be realistic.  The larger the garden, the more time it will require.  You may want to spend tons of time on it, but you may not be able to because of other responsibilities.  Gardening requires different amounts of time in different months.  Early on there’s not much of a time requirement other than planting seeds, weeding every few days and watering if necessary.  In late July, August and September much more time is required for harvesting veggies, more weeding and watering, not to mention preserving (freezing or canning).  During those months I am in my garden at least every other day or every day.

5. How will I get water to my garden?  This is very important and something that can be easily overlooked.  Your garden needs to be in reach of your hose, or you need to buy enough hose to get from the spicket to the garden.  This was an issue when we planned our first garden in 2008.  We wanted to have the garden in the very back of the backyard where there is a big sunny area.  However that is over 200 feet from the house.  So we had to buy over 200 feet of hose so we could get water out there.  It’s sort of a pain, but it’s a trade off we made to have an awesome garden.  I am so thankful when it rains and we don’t have to get that hose out!

6. How many vegetables do I need?  How many people are in your family?  Do you plan on doing any type of preserving such as  freezing, canning or drying?  Or do you plan to just eat everything fresh?  This will determine how much you should plant.  We grow tons of tomatoes because we make salsa, tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes to store for use all winter long.  But we only grow enough lettuce to eat right away because we can’t really store that for later.

After you get an idea of what you want to plant, where and what size your garden will be, it’s time to start laying out a timeline.  First though you need to determine what zone you are in.  Go to this website and enter your zip code.  It will tell you what zone you are in.  I’m in Zone 5b. 

Next determine your frost-free date.  Go to this website and look by state and city to get a general idea.  Now this website says that the frost-free date in Kansas is early April.  My rule of thumb is actually Mother’s Day, or the first part of May.  One year (before I was a gardener) we had a hard frost in late April and a lot of people lost their plants.  So I go with the first part of May.  If you are unsure about your frost free date, do some more poking around on the web or ask other gardeners who live in your area. 

When I’m planning my garden, I print out a calendar.  I keep this calendar all season and make notes on it.  Here’s my calendar for 2010:

On your calendar mark your frost free date.  On or around this date is when you’ll plant most everything outside.  Veggies like tomatoes, green beans, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, corn, etc.  I’ve tentatively planned a BIG PLANTING WEEKEND for May 1st.

I pencil these dates on my calendar because they could change.  I might end up too busy that weekend so I might have to do it on the 8th.  Now from that date, count back 8 weeks.  On or around that date is when you will want to start your seeds.  I start tomatoes and pepper seeds indoors (more on that later) and then transplant them into the garden on BIG PLANTING WEEKEND.  Note: you do not have to start your plants from seeds.  Local nurseries should have reasonably priced seedlings that you can buy and just transplant into your garden.  I do a mix of seed starting and transplant-buying.  The transplants are good back-ups if your seeds don’t grow very well!

Some veggies can take colder temperatures, therefore they can be planted outside before the frost free date.  They are lettuce, spinach, potatoes, onions, carrots and peas to name a few.  I tentatively plan to plant those into the garden in the middle of March.  I think it’s March 13th.  I also pencil that on my calendar.

Two weeks before you plan to put anything in the ground is when you need to break up your ground.  The best way to do this is with a tiller.  FIL has a really nice tiller and he comes over and tills up our garden a few times a year.  I would not recommend buying a tiller until you are sure you like gardening because they can be quite expensive.  You can rent a tiller or hire someone to come over and till.  Or you can break it up by hand with a shovel.  Any way you do it, the ground should be tilled up way before you are ready to plant.  So mark that on your calendar.  If you are not doing cold-weather veggies then this doesn’t need to be done until right before the frost-free date.  But if you are doing cold weather veggies, tilling weekend is coming up soon.

You’ll also need to plan a time to buy your seeds.  If you live in Kansas City, a great place to buy seeds is at Planters in the River Market.  They have TONS of seeds and they also sell seed in bulk, which is really cheap.  I also like Heartland Nursery.  Look for a local nursery if you can.  They should have knowledgeable people who can answer your questions.  If you can’t find a local nursery you can buy seeds at Lowes, Home Depot and Walmart.

Once gardening season starts, I mark on my calendar in pen when things actually happen.  When seeds were started, when seeds were sowed outside, when plants were transplanted.  I also make notes about rain fall and watering as well as temperatures.  Here’s my calendar from last year:

This can be helpful when planning your garden next year!

I also keep a journal of more detailed notes on the garden.  More about what I planted and where exactly I planted it (good to remember for crop rotation in following years).  I also note when the seeds start sprouting so I know how long they took to come up.  I sometimes draw little diagrams of the rows and hills.  This is from last year:

Sometimes I apparently make notes about stuff completely unrelated to gardening:

When the veggies are ready for pickin’, I keep notes on what the harvest was.  I bought a food scale last year so I usually do it by weight.  I always have dreams of keeping a massive spreadsheet so I know exactly how many pounds of each veggie I grew.  But I haven’t been able to keep it updated the past two years…maybe this year!

I hope this was helpful in learning how to plan for a garden.  This is exactly what I do for my garden.  Also, you do not have to have a massive garden with 15 different kinds of veggies.  A small simple garden is best for those just starting out.  Then you can grow it from there if you want.  Think about what fits best with your lifestyle.  Sometimes its just one tomato plant and one pepper plant. 

Do some research on your own.  When I first started I googled everything.  I would suggest checking some books out from the library.  I recommend The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible.

And I have to say there is nothing better than eating food you grew yourself.  There is nothing fresher than going out to your garden, picking lettuce and having a salad that night.  Homegrown veggies are amazing.  It makes all the work totally worth it!


3 thoughts on “Come Grow With Me

  1. Congratulations: you’ve just singlehandedly crushed most of the confusion that I had about starting my garden this year. 🙂

    Seriously, I’ve been reading up all over the place, but this post was the most straightforward, concise explanation on how to organize yourself and get started that I’ve seen yet. Thank you!

    1. I’m so glad I could help! Is this year your first garden? I’m so excited for you! Be sure to let me know how it goes. I’m going to be doing more posts about gardening so check back for other tips if you want.

  2. This is my first garden, and I’m trying not to go overboard. My family moved to a small farm last August, and now we have 8 acres and a couple of small barns to play with. The urge to plant every seed I can find is strong, but I just have to keep reminding myself that I’ll need to till and slave over every inch I plant, and try to keep myself in check. I will definitely watch for more gardening posts – you’re in my Google Reader now. 🙂

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