While many folks are still playing in the powder at the ski resorts, avid gardeners like me are drooling over seed catalogs. Despite what the fickle groundhog might say next month, it’s time to prepare for spring.
By January, seed catalogs pile up like cordwood promising perfect vegetables and a prize-winning garden. Instead of succumbing to the temptation of ordering everything that catches your eye, it’s time to take inventory of what you already have on hand. Set out your seeds according to what they are – veggies, flowers, herbs – to get an overall idea of what you have and what you need. Keep in mind, you can oftentimes use seed from the previous year, but in many instances, if it is more than two years old the viability is chancy at best, and it’s best to buy fresh.
Decide what you will want to plant. Were a dozen zucchini plants a few too many last season? Do you need more broccoli this year? How many varieties of lettuce or other greens do you want to plant to stagger the harvest? It’s much easier to make a plan now so everything can be ready by planting time.
Make a Plan
The truly organized keep notes on what varieties they used and how well they performed, which is a great help when you’re deciding what to order when there is still a foot of snow on the ground. If you’re not one of gifted individuals, it’s not too late to start. Jot down what you’re carrying over from last year, and anything you remember from the previous season. Note what you’re ordering this year, being sure to leave plenty of room for comments. If you keep a little notebook with your gardening supplies, it’s easy to pull it out and keep up on progress. More importantly, it’s a good idea to keep a rough sketch of the garden each year so you don’t plant the same family of vegetables in the same space.
Rotating crops keeps harmful insects guessing where you put those tasty melons, as well as minimizing the chance of variety specific disease. Once again, if you don’t have plans from last year, try to figure out what you did and make one for this spring. It’s easy to forget from year to year, and having everything written down saves a lot of frustration.
Set Your Timetable
If you’re starting plants indoors, now is the time to sit down with the calendar to coordinate the seeding schedule. Many vegetables require sowing indoors approximately 8-weeks prior to setting the plants outside. Check each packet for specific time requirements. Decide if you’re going to wait to plant until after the last frost date, or whether you plan to have a jump on the season by utilizing season extending techniques. Plan your estimated planting dates, providing latitude for inclement weather, and count backwards.
This is also a good time to make sure you have all of your seed starting equipment. Be sure it’s clean and readily available. If you need anything new, many of the local nurseries have an excellent selection at this time of year. If you’re using indoor lights, make sure the bulbs work properly. Or, if you set new seedlings in a sun room or greenhouse, take advantage of a nice winter day to clean the area and prepare for the new season.
Use a decent day to run to the nursery to buy a bag or bale of potting soil, or for the truly enthusiastic, grab that pickup load and shovel into trash barrels. When I started 6000+ seedlings each year, I used well over a yard of bulk potting soil, and learned it pays to have everything on hand when you begin. Cook dirt if you’re in for the day, and can stand the smell. It drives some people from the house, although it’s an acquired preference for those of us who know it means spring is on the horizon. Fill the turkey roaster with potting soil, and pop it in the oven for approximately an hour at 350-degrees. Allow it to cool before dumping it into a clean container.