Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In the cold of winter...

In the words of the late Carla Emery, "Seed companies are embarrassingly generous with their catalogs."  If you are new, or even fairly new to gardening, simply do an internet search for "free garden seed catalogs."  You will quickly find abundant listings of great companies eager to send you a catalog and your mailbox will soon be stuffed full of slick, colorful and deliciously tempting offerings.
My favorite January activity is reading, yes, reading these catalogs, often, cover-to-cover.  You can learn so much, not only about what is available, but will also acquire a wealth of information about gardening.  (It may sound strange, but I also read cookbooks cover-to-cover :) )
So, then, how does one proceed?  Here is a list of some ideas to consider:
1. Do you already have, or have you chosen a garden space?  Will it be traditional "dirt farming" (as my husband calls it,) or will you be doing raised bed or square foot gardening or even the more trendy "small space" gardening?  Again, a quick internet search will put you in touch with more information than you can imagine.  And please don't forget the tried and true source ~ gardening friends and neighbors.
2.  Let's assume that you have decided to simply plant your garden directly in a plot of ground and have not yet begun. It is not too late to begin preparing your soil.  There are several ways to approach soil preparation.  If you simply wait until springtime and shovel up, hoe and rake your ground, that will work, but you will have more grass and/or perennial weeds to contend with.  It would have been best if you had started in the fall with this method, but is is Not Too Late if you hurry.  On your plot, lay ou several layers of newspapers or old brown paper shopping bags.  It is easiest to work with the paper when it's wet, but if it is too cold outside, put them down dry.  On top, spread a nice thick (about 6 inch) layer of straw or  hay.  If you live in or near a city, call the office in charge of trash removal and see if they have piles of free compost available to home gardeners.  After you get all of that on your plot, walk away and leave it.  When things begin to warm up nicely in the spring (not early) this treatment will have killed or nearly killed what was growing on your garden space. This layer can be shoveled or rototilled right into the soil, if you wish, or you can rake it aside and let it decompose some more and add it back later, if it is not sufficiently decomposed to work into the soil easily.
3.  Choose what to grow.  Check in your area (call your County Agriculture Extension Office and look in the telephone book) to see if anyone near you sells seeds in bulk.  Often, local retailers can sell you the seeds you want for considerably less cost than ordering through the mail.  Even if you do have to order through the mail it is a bargain.  A very few dollars for a packet of seeds that will provide you with many pounds of fresh organic vegetables is a good buy!  If you are new to gardening, please start small.  I wouldn't want you to take on too much and become overwhelmed and then think it's just way too hard.  So, choose one or a few vegetables that you would like to grow this year and order the seeds!
4.  More often than not, seed packets have instructions on the back of them.  Follow The Instructions the first time.  After that, you will know more about how plants fare in your garden and came make adjustments as you go along.
5. You will need to look to the health of your soil.  Although you can resort to chemical fertilizers, in the long run, you and your soil and your vegetables will be a happier team if you learn to feed your soil so that it can feed you.  Ideally, you would start out with a soil test, either one done professionally (check with your extension office or garden supply store.)  If that is not possible, there are inexpensive devices in the aforementioned catalogs that you can use at home to determine the pH of your soil.Vegetable plants prefer an acidic soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Soil pH higher or lower than this range can cause beneficial nutrients to be unavailable to the vegetable plants. This results in poor growth and yield and if severe enough, your seeds won't even grow. I learned that the hard way.  Twice.  Beg borrow or
stealas much compost or well-rotted manure as you can find and put it on your garden, often.  Now would be a good time to put a layer on, and then come Spring, work plenty of that sort of thing into the ground.
6. It is not necessary to have fancy tools to be able to grow food.  Needless to say, if your garden will be large, it will be easier if you can purchase or borrow a rototiller, but people gardened for millenia without such niceties.  But you will need at least a good shovel, a hoe and a garden rake (not a leaf rake, please.)
7. If this is your first year, you might decide to actually buy a few seedlings.  Depending on your area, I would suggest you at least purchase tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings because where winters are long, the growing season is too short to start from seed.  There are a number of ways to grow your own seedlings, and that can be wonderful too.  Just don't try to do everything at once if you are new to this.
8.  Draw out a garden plan on paper.  It can be as precise and gorgeous or as slap-dash as will please you, but do make a written plan.
9. Finally, order your seeds.  Then, like me, you can sit around looking at the beautiful, shiny packets and dreaming of and drooling over all the lovelies you will have to enjoy this coming summer and fall.
The world of vegetable gardening is magical, fun, and challenging, and the opportunities to learn and improve and enjoy are endless!  I wish you a wonderful and satisfying 2013!

This post is linked to Simple Lives Thursday #129 and The HomeAcre Hop!


  1. I got my Seeds of Change seeds yesterday! I can't wait to plant but will have to until at least next week after our visit. (:

    1. Oh, I LOVE Seeds of Change. Their catalog is amazing and their seeds are great.

  2. great, helpful post! Thank you. I want to do better with my garden this year.

    1. Thank YOU, Margo, and I hope your garden thrives!

  3. Ah yes, the promises of the seed catalog are hard to resist :) I would love to have you share this on The HomeAcre Hop!

    1. Thanks for joining The HomeAcre Hop! So glad to have you sharing :)

  4. be careful of the cities free compost. where do thy get the stuff to make it. From the curb side containers we all putout as greens? I only put deceased plants or bad weeds and big branches etc in mine. all the 'good stuff' goes into the compost pile or straight into the garden soil as you do. Also if they use thing the city collects when they do tree cleanup or cutting these to can be a problem. When they sweep the streets of the tree trimmings they also get old car oil and cigarette buts and animal waste. Also in the greens from anyone goes their yard weed killers or anything they use on their property. Some could kill your plants later?? I wonder if the free compost from the cities should only be used in places where you will never plant things you will eat. Am I right to think so? I wish I could feel ok abouot getting the free compost but I don't know and worry that later it will cause problems.
    Also worry about what the farmer uses in his fields as some things are showing up now from them and in the hay that is pilling things in people's gardens. Ask what products they sue that might get into the hay or for that matter the bags of leaves people may give you. Th last time
    I got leaves the person told me they do not use weed killers but I sure got lot of new weeds the next spring that I never had before and the leaves also contained their dogs waste. :)
    Tree trimmers will let you have the chipped mulch from the days work to use and also that is a problem like others at times? I am just wondering...... Sarah

    1. All very good advice. We had planned to do a permanent mulch system, but it did NOT work out, as our drainage is not good enough, I found to my sorrow. We grew a really good crop of weeds though! So, tilling them in added a lot of seedy green manure. Thank you for your well thought out comments.


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