With snow on the ground and the occasional subzero windchill, it’s hard to imagine that spring will eventually be here. This is a great time to raise your spirits by planning your spring garden!
Every year, I break it down into three main steps- setting up my garden notebook for the season, prepping my garden beds, and starting or buying seedlings and planting seeds.
Garden notebooks don’t have to be fancy or even store bought. They are just a way to document goals for the year ahead and to help you remember successes and failures for subsequent years. I like to start out by measuring my garden beds and creating master “maps” of them for reference at the beginning of the notebook. After that, I like to note our growing zone, the estimated dates of first and last frost per the Old Farmers Almanac, and the number of days in our growing season. Having this near my maps makes it easy to reference when I am deciding whether certain plants or seeds fit into my garden and our growing season.
Next, I write down three simple goals for the year. This helps me to focus my efforts and keep from getting discouraged by overcomplicating things. In past years, for example, my goals have been to increase production, try out more fruits, and document the volume of my harvests.
Lastly, I use as many pages as necessary to map out the individual growing areas of my yard with what I plan to grow for spring and midseason, leaving room to plan later on for fall crops. This can be the best part- checking with my family to see what they’re willing to eat, finding new things to try, and deciding what will just have to wait till later, because I can’t try all 32 types of tomatoes I want to try.
For more resources and information, visit NC Extension's website for other ideas.
Heading Outdoors: Preparing Garden Beds
Once the dreaming and planning is done in the garden notebook, I focus my attention to the actual outside areas. I make note of which areas are losing the battle to Creeping Charlie and other weeds and I start pulling them again as soon as the weather warms up a bit. It’s a battle every year, but I like to get a head start on them before they take off! Now is the time to plan for soil amendments as well. I like to use a combination of mushroom compost and kitchen scrap compost from our backyard bin on our growing areas. I only use mushroom compost every 2-3 years in a specific area, in order to prevent salts from building up in the soil. If you sowed a cover crop in the fall, spring is the time to till it under to reap the benefits of the nutrients. Lastly, I like to venture back into the garage to take stock of the trellises and cages I have to make sure they are in good repair and fit in with what I planned in my notebook. I make sure my tools are clean, and my rain barrel is in good repair and ready to hook back up once the temperatures are consistently above freezing.
Sourcing Seeds and Seedlings
The final step in prepping a garden for spring is starting or buying seedlings as well as direct sowing seeds. I reference the dates in my notebook along with guidelines on seed packets to determine when to start my pepper and tomato seedlings indoors. I like to grow crazy heirloom tomatoes and hot peppers that are harder to find, so as a result, I learned how to start the seedlings indoors. I use “backwards planning” to make sure I start them with enough time to grow and harden off before they are put outside. Keep it simple and fun. If it’s too complicated or too much work or expense, it’s not worth it. This is the time to plan for area seedling sales, such as the one The Gardenworks Project has every year. It’s a great way to get a head start on the growing season without an indoor set up! Also consider direct sowing cool weather crops- veggies such as spinach, chard, and other greens, along with radishes and peas can be started early in the season. If you harvest a few smaller leaves at a time from each plant, your greens will keep growing and providing you with food until the hottest part of the summer.
As you plan and prep your garden for spring, make sure to use your notebook to document when you put plants or seeds in the ground, what varieties they are, and when they start to produce. Take notes on whether they were good producers or stricken by pests, and whether or not they tasted good. That way you will be able to decide next year if you would grow them again.
The beauty of gardening is the process of learning through each season, making adjustments, and trying again next year. To a plentiful harvest, and happy spring!