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Preparing for the Growing Season

Ever dream about those warm days of late August, picking fresh cherry tomatoes off the vine… meanwhile you are currently looking out the window wearing a large sweater watching a snowstorm?

That was me today, looking out the window and watching the blowing snow, wondering when the snow plow was going to go by and we would have to go out for the third time to shovel. I do love winter though, and I am always in awe at Mother Nature’s ways of shifting seasons. From several feet of snow, minus 30 temperatures, and rosy cheeks – to the hot, humid days of midsummer. I am reminded of her beauty and change, which are also the same qualities I like to observe in my own garden.

In thinking of these warm days ahead, I wanted to share how I prepare for the growing season in my own backyard. This preparation begins right now during the January snowstorms.

Each new year brings in feelings of new beginnings. January is the month where I begin considering what I will be growing in my garden. Since I’ve been using a Garden Planner for a few years now, I’ve luckily been keeping track of what I enjoy growing and what grows well for me in my garden. If you are new to gardening or haven’t kept a journal or planner over the years, this year is a great time to start.

I often begin by writing down some of the things we like to eat in our favourite recipes (like herbs and vegetables), and some things we grow just for fun (like giant pumpkins!).

Consider the Plants

After I make a list of all the things I would like to grow, I take a look through some seed websites or catalogues. This helps me to take a look at what’s out there right now for different varieties of the things I like to grow. For example, last year, we had SO much fun growing pumpkins (they are my favourite thing to grow), I decided I wanted to try some different varieties this year like larger white pumpkins, pumpkins that have these funky greenish bumps, multicoloured pumpkins, striped pumpkins, and mini pumpkins. Since we, as a family, get a lot of enjoyment out of watching these grow into the many shapes and sizes they become, we like to dedicate a lot of our garden real estate to these plants.

Photo of several seed packages for pumpkins and squash
Photo of several seed packages for pumpkins and squash

After perusing possible seed sources, I then make a final list of what I would like to grow this year. Usually this includes many things I grew last year, with a couple new things just for a fun challenge (like quinoa, stevia, birdhouse gourds, cantaloupe, and cayenne peppers for 2022). I really enjoy experimentation and am happy dedicating some garden space to try new things. My garden is not huge but I’ve built many raised beds around our small yard, with some along our fence, where I can grow vertically to save space. More articles on vertical gardening to come soon!

When thinking about seed purchases, I do take a good look at my garden layout and square footage to think about what I could reasonably grow in this space. I also consider some of the “bonus” growing spaces I have such as 10-20 gallon size grow bags (10 gallon for things like herbs, tomatoes, and strawberries, and 20 gallon for things like pumpkins, squash, and watermelon). I think about the layout of my raised beds too. I have one on the deck, a few along the fence, and one behind the garage with a metal arch for climbing vines. I know that I can also trail out my larger plants, like the pumpkins, under and behind the fence. I also plant things a little closer together than the seed packages suggest as I generally have good luck with that.

When I have an idea of what and where I will plant, I then proceed to take inventory of my seed packages. I keep a seed organizer like the one pictured below, which is actually a photo storage box from Michael’s. I’ve labelled all of the cartridges inside the box for different types of seeds. Any seeds from my list that I don’t currently have, I will purchase. I like to buy seeds in January because everything seems to be in stock and available at that time; compared to March or April, when many places are beginning to sell out. My favourite sources to purchase seeds from are McKenzie Seeds, OSC Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Northern Wildflowers (a local business). I am not sponsored by anyone at all, these are just my honest preferences.

Photo of a seed organizer with each smaller container labelled for different types of plants
Photo of a seed organizer with each smaller container labelled for different types of plants

Make a Sketch

Once I’ve made my decisions on what to grow and have purchased my seeds, my next step is to think about the actual locations of plants. I generally know that cool-season plants like shade and warm-season plants like sun so I consider the amount of sunlight I get across my backyard. If you need ideas on what is a cool vs warm season plant, you can take a look at the plants I will be selling this year as part of my spring plant sale. Underneath each item is a description including the “growing season” with “Cool” being spring/fall, and “Warm” being summer. You can take a look at these two examples here: Spinach being a cool season crop (like most salad greens), and peppers being a warm season crop.

Knowing the different areas of my yard, I can sketch out a rough plan for where I would like to plant everything. I start all my warm season crops indoors under grow lights, but most cool season crops can be planted right in the ground as soon as the soil thaws in the spring. Making a sketch like this doesn’t need to be perfect in any way – gardening is not at all about perfection. It’s really just looking at your space, taking a guess at what you think would fit where, and trying it! If it works, great – try it again next year. If it doesn’t work, you can always change the plan.

Sketch of a 4 x 2 ft garden
Sketch of a 4 x 2 ft garden

Next, I think about what supplies I will need for the upcoming growing season. I know I will need gardening gloves, a garden hose without holes in it, a spray nozzle that actually works, a good quality shovel, and fertilizer such as cattle or sheep manure. I also think about other items that I will need specific to how I’m growing – like tomato cages, twine, pots and potting soil for seed starting, and a large watering can, for example. I go through my garage and storage areas to seek out the items I have, check if they are in working order, and then make a list of anything I might need to replace (or borrow, if its something I don’t use often). I will also share more information in another article on choosing garden supplies like tools, supplies, accessories, and my best advice for what’s useful and what’s more of a novelty item.

Plan the Dates

Lastly, as part of my January prepping for the garden, I begin thinking about planting dates. Luckily, the seed packages all come with instructions on when to sow seeds indoors or outdoors. I always follow these instructions, often giving myself a week or two extra just in case of plant casualties. If a package says start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before planting, I typically will start them at the higher end of that suggestion, plus one week (ie: 9 weeks). Since I have grow lights on racks, I have the space to do this, but if you usually use a small table for seed starting, then following the package is totally ok. Side note: I highly recommend having some kind of artificial light for seed starting – these tiny plants need a LOT of light all day long. Also, there really is no huge rush getting your plants in the ground in the spring, especially since late frosts can be expected until about second week of June in the Sudbury area.

Screenshot of Garden Planning Spreadsheet Example
Garden Planning Spreadsheet Example

As I typically start seeds indoors a bit earlier in case some of them don’t make it, I have a bit of buffer time to start over again if needed. Working backwards from the last expected frost (say around June 10th), I then sit down and plot my seed planting dates in my Garden Planner. This gives me a nice guide to follow and I don’t really have to think about it after I plan it all out.

So there you have it! These are all of the things that I do in January to prepare for the growing season ahead. I find these steps to be helpful – working from the plan of what I want to grow, my rough sketch, and using my Garden Planner to keep me on track with dates as I get into April when I start planting seeds indoors.

I hope this may also be helpful to you, the beginning or seasoned fellow gardener, as you dream of those warm summer days ahead. If you have your own tips to share, please do so in the comments below. I would love to learn from you 🙂

Happy garden dreaming!

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