The steps you can take before planting to ensure a healthy garden
Are you dreaming of a bountiful harvest from your garden this spring and summer? While the winter is often a dormant time for your garden, this is the perfect time to organize and prepare your garden for when it comes time to plant. If you’re starting your garden for the first time, use this time to get your planters or fencing built and prepped so you don’t rush to do it or risk planting things too late.
Take Stock of Your Tools
If you don’t have the equipment you need, it’s going to be tough going. Did your trusty gloves wear out last season? Did you realize you needed to invest in a pair of pruning shears after your mint took over the garden? Start by looking over what you already have and what your past experiences have taught you that you need. Your tool needs will vary depending on if you have a single patio planter versus a sprawling, multi-crop garden.
At the very least, you’ll need a spade or garden fork, watering can and a pair of sturdy gloves. Depending on what you’re planning on growing, you may also need supports or cages, transplanting scoops or pruning shears. There are also nonessentials that can just make gardening a more enjoyable experience, like a kneeling pad for anyone who’s tired of kneeling on hard ground. If you’re doing a no-till garden, which will help you have naturally improved soil health, you’ll want to get or make a crimping tool to crush cover crops without disturbing the soil.
The Pest Defense is a Good Offense
Don’t wait for pests to invade your garden! Be proactive and set up pest control defense before they ever become a problem. If you have a problem with gophers in your yard, use raised planters lined with chicken wire. If you’re building a fenced-in garden, dig a trench around your fence and install chicken wire 18 to 24 inches deep. You can also do research into plant varieties that are naturally pest resistant, meaning you don’t have to use pesticide on your plants. Use copper tape around the base of your planter to ward off slugs and snails.
Insects like ladybugs can actually be beneficial to your garden, as they eat harmful pests. You can plan to plant flowers that will attract them naturally, and you can even order thousands of them online to be shipped to your home! (Just make sure you don’t open that package inside.) For larger gardens, crop rotation is another natural way to deter pests. If you reliably plant the same things year after year, you’re providing a consistent food source for bugs, and they’ll keep coming back. This requires long-term planning, but it can be very beneficial to your garden.
To Weed or Not to Weed?
While the common advice is to prevent weeds from growing in your space, there may be some benefit to letting your weeds grow. They can protect your soil from erosion and add organic matter to the soil that will provide vital nutrients to your soil for your crops later. Between planting seasons, cut back weeds to prevent them from seeding but don’t pull them, leaving the trimmings in the planter. When it comes time to plant, use a crimping tool to crush and kill the weeds without disturbing the soil, which will allow the roots to add back nutrients to the soil. Leave the cuttings in the soil to reintroduce those nutrients. In future seasons, plant cover crops in the late summer and early fall to experience these same benefits with crops optimized for the soil health.
Adding organic matter into your soil is a great way to increase your soil health without commercial fertilizers. Some weeds or cover crops can also assist you in your pest control efforts, as they can attract those beneficial insects that will eat anything that tries to help itself to your garden.
Common weed control measures like herbicide can also actively harm your garden and soil. Some types of herbicide remain in the soil for years after you use them and will prevent your crops from reaching their full potential.
Make a Detailed Plan
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for gardening. You need to know the growing season for your plant, if they can be planted straight in the ground or need to be transplanted later, what plants spread easily and could take over your garden or if there’s anything that shouldn’t be planted near each other. You can also stagger fast-growing plants like beans or lettuce, harvesting one and then planting the other in the same space rather than planting them all at once.
If you’re particularly visual, you can create a diagram of your garden that shows what you plant where, along with a calendar of when to plant and when you can start expecting your harvest. You don’t want to put hours of physical labor into your garden only to have a poor harvest. Put in the time to do the logistical work so the physical work on your garden doesn’t end up being for nothing.
How Are We Going to Eat it All?
That first zucchini you pull from your garden is going to feel like a miracle. After hours of work and months of planning, you have something delicious to show for it! The 50th zucchini will feel significantly less exciting. When you’re making your garden plan, consider how much your family will eat, how much a plant produces, and how many neighbors you can unload any extra produce on. Find recipes that you’re excited about or research ways to freeze or preserve your produce.
It's important to look into estimated crop yields when you’re choosing what to plant. A single yellow squash plant can produce anywhere from five to 25 pounds of produce, but a corn stalk will only give you one or two ears of corn. So if your family only tolerates roasted squash, it may be better for you to stick to buying that from the farmers market.
A home garden is a rewarding experience and often provides better produce than you can buy at the store. With a little planning, you can have a bounty that will brighten your family’s dinner table and have your friends begging you to share.