Whether you are starting a garden for the first time or starting your garden over for another season, there are some things you can do before the Spring Equinox even comes. (I'm talking about late February and into March when that itch to garden really starts to increase and that yearning for warmer weather begins to peak.)
1.) Assess Your Space & Choose What to Grow:
Sunlight- If you are starting a garden for the first time in a new space, start by assessing the amount of sunlight the space gets. Keep in mind that many vegetables, fruits, and flowers need at least six hours of sunlight per day. Note how in my photo, at midday a shadow is cast from my house. That shadow moves increasingly into the garden as the day progresses. I have what is considered a "full sun" garden where I have much more than 6 hours of sunlight per day.
Soil- In addition to sunlight, soil type is important. In our area here, we have mostly dense, clay-type soil. You can choose to have your soil tested at your nearest OSU extension office, buy a home test kit or you can simply amend your soil using various compost, peat, garden soil mixes, and other things readily available at the local garden center. When we moved to our new home in 2020, I chose to amend our soil using garden topsoil and compost. I have not had our soil tested and thus far have not had any issues with yields from my vegetables and herbs. I will however be testing my soil using a home test kit for my blueberries this year. Several things can be determined by testing your garden soil. I can get more into detail on this in a later post.
Size- Decide early on how much space you will have to dedicate to your garden. Once you have an idea of how much space you have then you can determine what you are able to grow. I estimate Sunstone Garden to be 1200 sq. ft. of usable growing space.
Family use and purpose- In order to determine what to grow, think about what flowers, vegetables, fruits, and herbs your family will actually use. If you think about this early on, you will save yourself some space in the garden, especially if maximizing the use of your space is of importance to you. This is very important to us as we live in a neighborhood, and I feed our family as well as sell things out of my garden space.
This isn't an exhaustive list of considerations; however, these will get you started in the right direction. Later down the road you can reassess your garden and make alterations as needed.
2.) Layout, Garden Journaling, & Logging (optional):
By now you may have at least an idea of what you want to grow. By laying out your garden on paper, you can further decide what you want to grow and narrow down your choices from there.
You can make this step as simple or as complex as you like. Choose from the pencil-to-paper method, online with software, or a combination of both. I use a combination of both. While this step is completely optional, I recommend having some sort of organization in place before planting this way you are able to maximize the space that you have.
Layout- Now that you have chosen your space and have a little bit of an idea of what you'd like to grow, it's time to lay out your garden plan. I do this using a garden software called Garden Planner (almanac.com) I love their software and it's not too expensive. I used to do my layout on printer paper using a ruler and a good pencil and eraser because it is free, but I found out that as I had more and more to plan, it was just easier to bite the bullet and pay for this software.
Journaling- I think that the garden planner on the almanac has a journal as well but I have to admit that I am rather lazy with journaling, and I have not used it. I've never been much of a journalist, to begin with. I have bought several garden journals from amazon, and I just never followed through with using them. If it's something super important, I write it in my everyday planner calendar to keep track. Obviously keeping a garden journal has its benefits but I chose to forego extensive writing and opt for simple chart logging instead.
Logging- I told myself this year that I would get better at tracking plant progress this way when I get started back up next year, I'm not going at it blind again. lol. So, I implemented "logging" into my garden planning. I couldn't find a log online that I was completely happy with, so I made my own with Microsoft word. You can see from the photo above that I color-coded mine. There's just something about color-coded charts that make life simpler for me. If you want a copy of it to print out for yourself, here's the pdf download for you.
3.) Utilize Sunny Winter Days:
This third step is very important if you want to get ahead of the season for several reasons. If you are familiar with Ohio weather you know that during February and March, mother nature throws out temperatures like power ball numbers......12, 37, 2, 60, 49. Jokingly we have more than 4 seasons, winter, fake spring, 2nd winter, April Fool's spring, last winter, then finally comes spring. You can use fake spring to get a head start on picking up fallen tree limbs from over winter, clean up your yard, organize your garden shed, inventory and repair tools, plan, build, or repair trellises, raised beds, other garden structures, and much more.
4.) Purchasing Plants, Seeds, Structures, & Supplies:
Now that you've 1.) Picked a space. 2.) Made a plan & chose your plants. and 3.) Organized your space, it's time to determine what else you need. Whether you are just starting out and need all new supplies or need to replace, repair, or upgrade, there is going to be an expense.
Plants or Seeds- You can choose to order seeds and start them yourself now or wait until baby plants become available in the local nurseries. I chose to purchase seeds and start many of my plants indoors because there are varieties that I specifically wanted. If it's your first year or you are starting fresh without much time to dedicate to seed starting, you can wait until baby plants become available. Most nurseries start to bring out babies at the end of March and into April.
Soils, Composts, & Fertilizers- Personally, I get ahead of the curve and order as much of these as I can now. I use Purple Cow seed starting mix and Garden Magic soil mixed with leaf compost from my supplier for my outdoor beds. This year I am focusing on raising many of my beds, so in addition to the routine compost, I'll have the extra expense of adding soil this year.
Garden Bed Structure- I won't get too detailed here because it's not quite time but keep in the back of your mind that whether you decide to raise your garden beds off the ground or use the ground itself, you will have expenses here depending on the choices you make.
Trellising, Netting & Fencing (Optional)- Up until this year, I haven't had to put much thought into fencing but since we are getting chickens this May, I have to think about my options. We don't get many critters (knock on wood) so I haven't had to proof my garden as of yet. I typically plant way more than we need so the bunnies get to share in our garden spoils. Up until now, I've used random things around the house to prop plants and such but now that we are getting into canning sauce, blueberries, and gourds, netting from the birds, trellising, and fencing is going to be more of a requirement here at Sunstone. Gone are the days when companion planting my herbs is a surefire way to ward off critters.
Replaceable & Repairable Items- Keep in mind that you will need hand tools, garden rakes, shovels, aprons, buckets, bags, trays, kneelers, gloves, and gauges among other things you might find that you need for gardening. Many of these items are going to need to be bought or repaired from year to year. You can lighten this expense by properly cleaning them after each use and storing them securely in your organized shed at the end of the season and when not in use. Personally, I am terrible at this so my expense from year to year is a bit more than average.
By the time you are all done with this checklist, you should be well on your way to starting a garden. I typically have everything done on or before Spring Equinox (March 21st). If you follow this checklist, you will be ready to plant after your last chance of frost (the first week of May)! Happy gardening and I hope you found this post helpful! As always, if you have any questions or feel I missed something important, please reach out to me! You can also join in on my informal gardening journey on Facebook at (1) Sunstone Garden Groupies | Facebook
Written By: Irisa Green, Owner, and Gardener at Sunstone Garden LLC
Resources are linked within the article.