Getting an early start on spring

I know, it’s barely March and I’m talking about gardening already. But if you are the type who starts your own seeds or wants to, this is when you have to start preparing.

We had a recent heat wave here, it was in the 60’s all week and the ground was completely thawed. It was terrible for the winter carnival going on, but great for me! I wanted to start planting right away, but I made do with preparing the garden beds. With the warm weather I was able to mulch in extra leaves and compost from last fall to enrich the soil for my plants. I was also able to break ground for my herb plots by the chicken coop.

Plan your spring date

Just like in Ms. Congeniality, the perfect date is very important. It can’t be too hot or too cold or your poor little plants will suffer. Since you don’t want your tender babies to get frostbite, it’s very important to see when the last frost will be. In my town, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, the last frost is May 4th, so that means I only have two months before planting season is upon me.

Since I know I am starting lots of tomatoes, and I know they can be started 6 weeks before the last frost, I am suddenly down to 2 weeks until p-day (planting day). Keep a journal (or just a piece of paper) and write down what you are going to start and when. Some plants need 6 weeks, and some only need 2. I have a huge calendar on my office wall that I write dates on and color-code them. The month of March and April are covered with bright green reminders of what seeds I need to start on what date.

Make a plan

One evening I sat down and drew my garden out on a piece of paper. It was very professional and completely understandable (not), so I re-did it on the computer. It makes a nice little print out that I stuck on my gardening cork-board. I am an impulse buyer so I need a plan for everything before I do it. I was able to see how much space I can reasonably handle by myself so I had a plan when I went to order my supplies.

Once I got on my seed suppliers website, I was tempted to order all three kids of Heirloom corn they sell, but since I had my garden plan sitting there, I knew I only had room for one. It was a hard decision too. I finally settled on the corn that looks like it’s ornamental, supposedly tastes like sweet corn, and makes popcorn too. I can’t wait to see if all three claims are true.

Get the equipment before you need it

I am a big saver (that sounds so much better than hoarder), I have always saved things that I knew I would use, that includes my planting pots. Even those cheap little black plastic 6-packs get re-used for seed starting. This spring I am starting a LOT more seeds, so I invested (which sounds better than splurged), on new seed starting trays and larger pots for transplanting into (I’ll explain why later).

Rather than scrambling at the last minute and ending up with those cheap starter kits and 20 different kinds of seeds from the drug-store, plan ahead and skip the stress! Take your garden plan and plot out what seeds you need to order from your local or heirloom seed producer, then get online or go to the garden supply store and get your pots, starting soil, and trays. Don’t forget the onion and garlic bulbs too, some places only start selling them once it’s time to put them in the ground.

Put in a little extra effort (and reap the benefits)

Do you buy your plants at the store and spend $4 or $5 for a single tomato plant? What if a local person said that they had healthy, heirloom tomato plants for the same price? While some people will still buy theirs at the store because of the convenience, I would much rather buy from a local person who used local heirloom seeds. This spring, I am starting 40 extra tomato plants as a test run, with a plan to expand and approach some local stores this fall (if the seedlings sell well) to set up a tent in their parking lot next spring (like the area produce sellers do in the summer and fall).

Is this something that you could do from your home? If you have a green thumb and space to start seedlings, start a few extra and advertise them when their ready on a local site. On my local Facebook garage sale group, a lot of people sell their extra produce there in the fall. In some cities they have special groups just for buying local garden produce. Take advantage of the internet age to make yourself a little extra money on the side while doing something you love.

Be realistic

I always have bigger than life plans, a consequence of growing up with entrepreneur parents. Sometimes I have to step back, take a second look at my plans, and scale them back to realistic levels. This is my problem with gardening. I love working outside with the plants and soil, I love seeing my produce ripen and grow, and I love canning, drying, and freezing my bounty in the fall. I am only one person, though. While I have a lot of optimism, I don’t have enough energy or time to keep up with it.

I made garden boxes 3’ x 3’ so that I would be limited by the amount of space and couldn’t do too many plants or varieties. My tomatoes grow in 5 gallon buckets in the garden, and I only plant things in the ground that I know can survive the harsh Montana weeds. Someday I would love to be able to produce enough to have a stall at the local farmer’s market, but for now, I will have to stay realistic and say ‘no’ to some things so that I can manage what I do have.

Start Now!

Sit down right now and make a list of what you want to plant, draw a little diagram of your garden (it doesn’t have to be pretty), and check your last frost date to find out when you can start seedlings (or start planting outside). “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – Lao Tzu. Whether your goal is canning a winter’s worth of tomato sauce and green beans, or having a lovely flower garden; each goal begins with one little step.

What’s your gardening goal, and what steps are you taking to reach it?