Hello, Spring! Spring has officially sprung, and we are so ready for it. The warm weather and sunshine are nice, but I am most excited to start the garden. I started gardening when we moved out of the city a few years ago and can't get enough of it. I am still a novice gardener, but I've learned a lot along the way. I wanted to take the time to share with you the basic gardening know-how. This blog is a good place to start if you are getting started on a garden, specifically a produce garden in the North part of the United States. So, where do we start? First things first, it is still far too early in the season to get plants in the ground. Here in Minnesota, we don't get to a safe gardening season for at least another month and a half, and that's if we're lucky, but we can get started indoors. I will talk about garden planning, seeding, and preparation.
I always start the garden planning process on paper. I first determine the locations for planting. At our house, we currently have three raised bed gardens that we plant in. I decide if any of the beds need to be moved or if any need to be added. This year we are adding two raised beds for a squash garden. If you are just starting this, it is a good time to ask whether you will plant straight in the ground or in a raised bed. We chose raised beds because we have poor-quality soil that is mostly clay and pretty hard. Also, the raised beds thaw faster than the ground, which allows us to get the plants in the ground a little sooner. Once I've determined the location, I then plan what to grow. When choosing seeds, my first rule of thumb is only to plant what I know we will eat. It may be cool to grow eggplant, but if you don't eat eggplant, that's just silly. Once I've determined my seeds, I check the vegetables' compatibility with each other. Not all vegetables are friends. Below is a chart of the most common produce and their companion. There are so many resources online to check if your vegetables are companions or not. Finally, I purchase my seeds and sketch out a garden blueprint.
Now that you have the seeds, it's time to determine the next steps. Seed packets have a lot to offer, including whether to start them inside or outside, when to sow outdoors or transplant, if the plant needs full sun, partial sun, or shade, and how deep the seeds need to be planted. Finally, how much space each plant will need when fully grown. This information can help with the garden blueprint.
There is no need to go out and buy an indoor growing kit, a ton of seed trays, or fancy signs for your plants. Especially when you are first starting, you may have household items that will do the trick. Empty egg cartons, toilet paper tubes, and newspaper are great options for creating a container to start the seeds. Using saran wrap loosely around the containers will produce the same effect as the lids that come with the seeding trays. To label our plants, we use popsicle sticks. If you want to buy the seeding trays, we recommend purchasing the ones that come with cardboard cells instead of plastic. This option not only reduces plastic waste it also makes transplanting much easier. With the cardboard cells, you can cut them into their pods and plant them as is. The cardboard will decompose as the plant grows. The cells will drain, so be sure to set them on a surface that can get wet. You can use a tarp or even cookie sheets to retain the water. When it comes to grow lights, they help get the seeds started, allowing for consistency, but they are not needed. Find a sunny place in your house free of a draft, and your seeds will be just fine. Below is a list of items you may need or want to purchase.
- Seeding Soil
- Seeding Trays
- Popsicle Sticks
- A Grow Light
- Heat Mat
It may seem like it's time to start clearing away plant debris from last year, but I encourage you to wait a little longer. I don't start removing the dried plant stalks until May. The reason for this is to benefit the bugs. Many bugs lay their eggs in hollowed stalks in the winter, which don't emerge until spring. The same goes for leaves in your yard. Bees, butterflies, and many other bugs may have laid their eggs there. Try to give them a chance by not clearing the debris too soon. If you would like, you can check your soil's quality with a soil acid test and begin to create a soil, compost, peat moss mix that best fits your needs. Honestly, I haven't tested my soil and likely won't this year either. Determine how you are going to water your crops. I just use an oscillating sprinkler that reaches all the beds. If you want to get fancy with an embedded water system, now is the time to do it. Be sure to grab the extra items you may need to support your plants such as tomato cages, twine, or trellises. Once it is time to clear the garden, get rid of the dried stalks and prep the ground. I try not to till up my soil too much to help prevent weeds. A full tilling can wake up seeds lying dormant under the ground and create a more viable area for floating seeds to implant. Once you've prepped, you're ready to plant.
I am a firm believer that gardening doesn't have to be complicated. It can be daunting when you first get started, and there is so much information out there. There will always be ways to have better yields and prevent disease and grow perfect produce. For me, that's not why I garden. I garden to get my hands in the dirt. I garden to see my plants grow. I garden to provide, whether that's to the neighborhood bunnies, bugs, or my family. Remember, people have been gardening since the beginning. Also, if you plant a seed and it doesn't grow, it's okay. It happens. Find your reason for gardening and create a system that works best for you. Most importantly, enjoy it. Happy gardening, my friends!