It might feel like spring is a long way away right now, but in reality it will be here before we know it, and these winter months are the perfect time to start planning your summer garden. If it’s your first attempt at gardening (YAY!) that’s great, if you’ve been gardening for years you probably enjoy this time of year since this is when you start to get seed catalogs in the mail.
How Much Space Do You Have?
The first thing to consider when you are starting to plan your garden is the amount of space you have. Many who live in apartments or condos may only have their window sills or a small balcony, and that is plenty to start growing your own food.
If all you have are a few window sills you will need to plan on using smaller pots and growing smaller plants like lettuce or herbs. Check this post out if you’re new to container gardening and need some help getting started. If you have some raised garden beds or a large garden then your planning will be more involved so that you can utilize all the space you have.
If you have raised garden beds or a more traditional garden (one that you removed the sod and tilled the dirt) then your design can be very important. You will want to have an idea of what you want to plant and how much space those plants need to successfully grow to maturity.
There are resources available online that help you plan your garden so you can get spacing right, Gardeners Supply has a free planner that will help you space plants properly, tell you when you should start your seeds and any helpful hints they have.
I have two 3′ x 5.5′ raised beds, this year I want to try a method called square foot gardening. This method is designed to help you plant and grow more in less space. I planted them with lettuce, herbs and flowers in rows last year, this year I would like to try to grow more in the space that I have available. I also have some larger, about 12″ round pots, that I’m going to try to utilize as well.
What Should You Plant?
If you don’t get seed catalogs already they are a great place to start, they give all sorts of pictures and can provide some inspiration for what you would like to plant in your own garden.
Many seed catalogs have started to carry seeds for different vegetables that are meant to grow in containers. These plants have been bred to be able to thrive with confined roots and are generally a little smaller, you don’t really want to have a plant grow to be five feet tall in a 12″ round pot.
Some great plants to start with if you’re new to gardening are salad greens and herbs, these are generally easy to grow and low maintenance. I like to plant salad veggies; lettuce, radishes, broccoli and snap peas for example. I also like to try to experiment with plants that might be a little more high maintenance, last year I tried delicata squash, a different year I tried daikon radishes and turnips thinking they were going to be an easy low maintenance vegetable to try, unfortunately they got some sort of larvae into them and ruined everything I had planted. That is part of the fun of having a garden, experimenting with different vegetables and hoping that they succeed.
Once you have your garden planned and have decided what you would like to try to grow and when you should plan to start your seeds.
I use a simple seed starting tray with plastic cells for the dirt and seeds. The kits usually come with a bottom tray to put water in and a clear plastic top to help get your seeds to sprout. Another useful tool is a grow light, you can read about this bamboo LED grow light that I reviewed here. Grow lights are really useful since many seeds need to be started several weeks before you’re able to put them outside, using a grow light you can be sure to give your young plants optimal amounts of light.
Many seeds do much better if you are able to start them inside, especially if you live in a northern region like I do. Things like onions are best if you start them in February, peppers get started in early April, tomatoes we start mid-April, we have also found things like our broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage do better if they are started inside as well. Starting some of your seeds inside gives them more time to reach maturity and gives you a better chance of being able to consume them before a fall frost hits.
Planning your garden during the cold dark winter months is a great way to begin to look forward to the approaching spring and summer. You can dream about what you want to grow in the coming year and reflect on what did and didn’t work the year before. I hope this helps you begin the planning process and that you are able to make the most of the space available to you. Happy Gardening!