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
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!