As I’m writing this, my Southern city is bracing itself for a big snowstorm (Well, big by Atlanta standards, anyway). Warm, sunny days seem eons away, but when it comes to gardening, planting season is actually just around the corner.
This will be the third year my family has tended a vegetable garden. And every year we get a little better at it, learning from our mistakes. But our biggest mistake is that we wait until late spring — in other words, those first warm days where being outside is a pleasure — to get started. And by then it’s too late.
Not this year, though. There are plenty of reasons why now is the time gardeners should be working in earnest on their gardens. These are the ones that resonate with me.
- You’ll have time to plan what to grow and order your seeds from heirloom seed companies. Sketch out your garden plots and make a list of what you want to grow, then start browsing websites and catalogs from seed companies to get your order together. By planning ahead and researching the different varieties of plants, you’ll be able to get exactly what you want and you’ll have plenty of time to wait for the seeds to be delivered from heirloom seed companies like Seed Savers Exchange.
- You can get seedlings started inside. Starting your garden from seeds ensures that you know under what conditions your plants have been grown, particularly important if you’re trying to keep an organic garden. Use a seed starting chart to calculate when you need to get started, and don’t forget that you can repurpose household materials like newspaper or eggshells as the little pots.
- You’ll have plenty of time to sow those early-spring crops. Supposedly March 17 is an auspicious day to plant peas. Not only is it the right time in the season for this cool-weather crop, but planting peas on this day supposedly brings good luck. But peas aren’t the only plants that are best to get into the ground in the next couple of weeks. Determine your geographic zone and figure out what to get in the ground while the weather is still cool. In my part of the country, I’ll be planting beets, broccoli, carrots, and greens.
- You’ll get a head start on building and installing necessary structures. Get your garden beds and work spaces ready for the season, whether this means building a nice potting bench out of pallets, creating raised beds, a rain barrel, or constructing a framework for mesh to keep out the pests (a must-do on our list for this year, after losing lots of greens to a family of rabbits last year!). That way, when the time comes, you can focus on planting.
- There’s time to collect household materials for your garden. Remember all those clever gardening repurposing/upcycling projects you pinned onto Pinterest last year? Now’s the time to start collecting the stuff you need to do some of those projects: save milk cartons use as mini greenhouses or scoops, strips of old T-shirts to stake plants, and newspaper to smother weeds. And while you’re at it, ask around your neighborhood for anyone replacing their gutters: the old ones can be used to make a vertical strawberry garden.
- Your soil has time to get in shape. Get your soil tested now at your local cooperative extension office with an at-home kit, and you’ll be able to determine what it needs so it’s balanced and able to adequately nourish whatever you plant. Chances are, a good layer of compost will help it immensely. You haven’t gotten on the compost bandwagon yet? Then don’t waste another minute starting a compost pile; the first batch can be ready in as soon as 3 months, which means that you can add it to your garden in June.