Considering the frost on the ground this morning and how the threat of snow is not completely gone, I know it’s a little early to start prepping the garden for the spring. However, it’s the perfect time to start planning this year’s crops (can I really call them crops?) and start a timeline of when certain tasks need to be completed by.
This will be our third summer in our house and with the garden, considering it was one of the first things we added. To say that I’ve been a diligent or perfect gardener is pretty laughable. In past years, I’ve been very gung-ho garden at the beginning of the season. I pulled all my weeds, I watered my plants daily if it was boiling hot with no rain and I picked all my produce at the right time. On the other hand, once it’s a million degrees outside (can you tell that I’m slightly dramatic?) and all of the bugs are ready to feast the moment you walk out of the door towards the end of summer, my garden duties begin to slack off. I weed less and I don’t always pick my 600 tomatoes the day I should. Food gets wasted… it’s a sad, sad day.
Every year I say that I’m going to be better and every year I’m not. This year though… this is the year when I’m really going to be on my garden game. I’ve spent a lot of time researching garden tips and tricks, as well as what I can be doing within the next month to get things ready. Here are some garden reminders –
(sidenote: these tips assume that you already have a garden. If you’re a first time gardener, you can check out how we built our garden here and here. You can also review how we prepped our garden last year here. There’s also a TON of great resources available online to help get you started)
First, you want to find out which one of the 11 US zones you live in. (You can do that here if you don’t know already – you just need to enter your zip code). (editted to add: I apologize to everyone outside of the US! I’m sure there are similar sites for your countries, but I’m not a worldwide gardening expert. In fact, I’m just learnin’ as I go… not an expert at all!)
Most of Maryland is within zone 6 and considering that’s where my garden lies, as well as, most of my family and friends’ gardens – some of my information will be geared towards that zone.
picture from here
The College of Agriculture at University of Maryland has some really great resources available online. I would definitely suggest checking them out if you happen to live in the area. (Check out this main site, this one and this one too). They also offer gardening classes in different areas throughout the state. (Check out this page to see if there are any classes near you that you’re interested in) Most of my information comes from these sites – however, I’ll link to specific sites if needed throughout.
So, we figured out our zone, now we need to reflect on how the garden produced last year. For me, my tomatoes completely took off and really stole the show. My strawberry bed, zucchini, and squash definitely showed up to the competition as well. However, my cucumbers were pretty crappy. I tried a new variety and well, I won’t be trying them again. They kept growing and growing but never turned green – very disappointing, especially considering the ridiculous amount of cucumbers that I had the year before and the jars of pickles that ensued. What surprised me the most was my romaine lettuce that I started from seeds. It was so easy to grow, the lettuce was delicious, and it really took off! Romaine lettuce is definitely on my “grow again” list. What plants really took off for you? Did you have anything that disappointed you?
Towards the end of the month and into March, you’ll want to finish planning your beds and purchasing your seeds. As I mentioned before, the romaine lettuce was my first from seed plant (all of my others I had purchased at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or a local nursery as transplants). I loved the result and will be trying more plants from seeds this year. (I’ll probably buy them from this site or this site, but I’ll let you know when I make that decision).
So far, I think my crops will look something like this: strawberries, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, lettuce, spinach*, tomatoes (early girl, cherry, and beefsteak), peppers (jalapenos, bell, and one other variety), broccoli*, carrots*, onions, and garlic*. I’m also considering planting cantaloupe and beans or peas, but will need to do a little more research first. Additionally, I will be moving my herb garden away from the actual garden and into pots to free up another bed. My herbs will include: rosemary, cilantro, basil, oregano, mint, chives, parsley, and thyme. (All items marked with a * will be new additions to the garden this year) – Have you planned your crops for the year? Will you be trying anything new?
Once the weather warms up a bit and it’s time to start prepping your soil, remember to allow your soil to dry out completely before turning it over and tilling. You should be able to make a ball of soil and bounce it in your hand a few times. If it breaks apart, the soil is dry enough to turn over or till; if your soil stays together then it still needs to dry out. Tilling the soil while wet will cause damage to the soil and will become brick-hard when it dries out. This will also be a good time to mix in 2-3 inches of compost into your soil (I need to get on this! We haven’t started composting; I’ll need to find some in the area). However, in the meantime—go ahead and clear out everything the winter storms have left in your garden (i.e. leafs, sticks, weeds that didn’t freeze, any and all debris)
During this waiting period, it’s also a good time to purchase any supplies you may need for this year. Do you need new supports for your tomato plants? (I’m pretty sure we need at least one new support) Are you planning to use trellises for your cucumbers or other vine-y plants? Are you going to buy them or make them? Does your sprinkler still work? Or do you want to try soaker hoses? Are you thinking about expanding your garden? Have you mapped that out and made a list of what you’ll need? How many bags of soil will you need?
I have a lot more information that I’m dying to share, including how to avoid some of the common pests, when to fertilize, freezing/canning techniques and so, so, soooo much more. The good thing is we have a ton of time to discuss all things garden before its go time, so we’ll have to hold off on that until another day. (And I’m pretty sure this post is wordy enough as is).
In the meantime, tell me a little bit about your garden aspirations. Are you a new gardener or a long time pro? Do you have any questions or topics that you want me to cover in my next garden post?
Psssst – as always, I have no affiliation with the sites that I mentioned. UMD isn’t paying me to boost their website stats. I’m just one little UMD grad that loves her school and her home state, so I’m always willing to do a little Maryland shout out. And it doesn’t hurt that I found their information tremendously helpful!