I don't know about you but with April here in just a few short days I'm getting excited to start in my gardens! We've got the ground ready in the vegetable garden and i'm biting at the bit to get in there! Here in Northwest Ohio I'm in planting Zone 6A. I've started several plants indoors already but there's something about digging in the dirt that makes it so much better!
Choose your gardening style and planning
There are so many different gardening styles: raised beds, traditional rows, square foot garden, non GMO, all organic, heirloom, etc. This year we will be trying square foot gardening at Bless this Mess Homestead. We've done traditional rows for years but I'd like to see if using the square foot method produces more bang for your buck. Choosing plants and seeds can be difficult. There are so many different varieties of each kind and there's many different seed companies then too. Who do you go with? These are all personal choices. Here we stick with Territorial Seed company and Burpee, why, because that's what my grandpa used and they worked well for him, so we gave them a shot and I've loved them. I only choose GMO free seeds. I have mostly everything heirloom besides my sweet corn and tomatoes because their hybrids are amazing. I get mostly all organic seeds but to me this isn't a necessity. But to some this is so again personal preference.
Where to start?
So where do you start? well if you already have an established garden and it works for you then you've got a head start. If not then you need to find a good spot that receives mostly sun all day. Here comes the decision on which kind of style you want. I would love to have huge raised beds so I don't have to bend over and can harvest standing up but I can't seem to justify the cost of building that for all my gardening needs (or can I say my Hubby says no). So I have a 1 foot wood boarder around a couple of my gardens and just ground level for the others.
Next is really important and that's compost or "black gold". What is compost? In a nutshell, compost is decomposed organic matter. Composting is a natural process of recycling organic material. A few inches of compost on top of your soil and your plants will love you and produce so much better. So if you don't have a compost bin, you better get on that! Ours is just made out of 4 pallets. There's many ways to make a compost bin and Pinterest will give you many DIY's for a compost bin. So what can you put in your compost bin? Well there's green and brown compost.
Greens for Your Compost Bin
"Greens" are the nitrogen-rich additions to your compost pile. These tend to have lots of moisture, break down quickly, and provide a quick burst of heat to your pile. While we call them "greens," technically any plant matter will work here.
Fruit and vegetable peels
Tea leaves/tea bags
Old vegetables from the crisper
Weeds that haven't gone to seed
Deadheads from flowers
Dead plants (as long as they aren't diseased)
Cooked plain rice
Cooked plain pasta
Sod that you've removed to make new garden beds
Thinnings from the vegetable garden
Spent bulbs that you used for forcing indoors
Old, less flavorful packaged herbs and spices
Browns for Your Compost Bin
Brown's for your Compost Bin
"Browns" are the carbon-rich materials in your compost that add aeration to the pile and structure to your compost. They break down more slowly, so it's a good idea to chop them up fairly small if you're able to. Here are some browns to put in your compost pile:
Torn up plain corrugated cardboard boxes (not with glossy coatings)
Bedding from hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits
Chopped up twigs and small branches
Nut shells (avoid walnut shells as they can inhibit plant growth)
Toilet paper, paper towel, or wrapping paper tubes (cardboard)
Fallen bird's nests
Pine needles/pine straw
Paper coffee filters (used)
Pressed paper egg cartons, torn into small pieces
Sawdust (only from untreated wood)
Brown paper shopping bags, shredded/torn
Brown paper lunch bags, shredded/torn
Leftover peat or coir from seed starting
Coir liners for hanging baskets
Bedding from chickens
Shredded office paper/school papers
Shredded, non-glossy junk mail
This list is a good starting point of safe, common things you can compost. As you can see, there are many common household items we can compost rather than throw into the trash.
What to plant
Ok so you have your garden ready to be planted, now what do you plant? This is again personal preference. Don't plant something you won't eat. I know that should be obvious but it can be a battle not to buy all those plants you see! There are many different varieties of each species as well. What kind do you get? Do your research! Make sure they will work in your planting zone. Look at the spacing requirements. if you have a small garden then find a variety that is good for small spaces. Look at how long it will take for the plant to become mature and ready to harvest. Then how much do you plant? Well do you want to just have fresh garden produce for that season or do you want to preserve to have enough for a whole year. You also have to add in the amount of mouths you will be feeding and how often you will want to eat that produce. Let's take tomatoes for example. If you just want to have some good maters for slicing for the summer then you probably only need a couple plants for a family. Now if you want to make your own sauces, juices and diced tomatoes to last for a whole year you'd need alot more of those tomatoes. For my family of 5 ( family and friends too of course) I have 36 tomatoes plants. I have cherry tomatoes, roma tomatoes, regular sized tomatoes and beefsteak giant tomatoes. I cann so many tomatoes that i can't stand to see anymore!
You have your garden style picked out and planned, check. Also a nice layer of compost down and a compost bin ready for to make some black gold, check, check. You also have decided what you want to plant, check. Now what you need to do is map out your garden. I use a Garden Planner tool, it's amazing. Right now Mother Earth News is offering a free 5 day trial, so click on the link and it will take you to the offer!
Stay tuned for Spring Time, Plant Time Part 2 for how and when to plant, companion planting and planting tips and hacks!