Photo: Jessica Lucia (Flickr)
There may still be snow on the ground, but Stephanie Solomon, the Director of Education and Outreach at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, says it’s never too early to begin annual gardening preparations. She and her crew of community volunteers are already gearing up for the spring growing season, and they’re offering some helpful tips to get you started, too.
Optimize Your Green Space
Whether you’re a seasoned green thumb or a first-time gardener, the lead-up to spring planting requires a bit of planning.
“One of the most fun things to do at this part of the season is map out your garden,” Solomon says. She recommends taking advantage of the last few weeks of winter weather to cozy up with a cup of coffee or tea and sketch out a garden plan. Now is the perfect time to begin thinking about things like crop rotation and seed purchasing, before the promise of sunshine and optimal working conditions return from their extended hiatus.
Depending on the size and scope of your garden, devising a crop rotation schedule is an important factor in optimizing your green space. As a general rule of thumb, Solomon says to try not to plant your tomatoes in the same place as they were last year. Switching up the location of your crops each season will improve the fertility of your soil and also help to prevent pests and disease.
Even in the off-season, there’s always work to be done. Composting can be a yearlong effort to making your garden grow. For those feeling exceptionally motivated, consider making a staggered planting schedule to ensure a consistent harvest all season long.
At the sign of the first good thaw, Solomon looks forward to getting out into the gardens to start planting the first rounds of spinach and sweet snap peas. While the unpredictable Midwest weather may have you second-guessing your planting dates, not to worry. “Just plant them and look away,” she says. “Even if there’s a frost, peas seem to do just fine.”
Other well-suited crops to consider for early season planting include leafy greens and root vegetables like radishes, carrots and turnips.
If you’re anxious to get your hands in the dirt, indoor seed starters are a great way to get a head start on warm weather plants. Earlier this month, volunteers started leeks and onions under UV lights. Those starter plants will be transplanted outdoors when the temperature increases in late March or April.
Don’t Put Your Eggs All in One Basket
From Solomon’s experience, gardening has always been positively rewarding. She’s been growing vegetables in Indiana for over a decade and says seeing the first crop of the season is always worth it.
Considering the microclimate and soil quality, she explains that some plots of land just tend to fare better than others. “There have been years when kale is so productive and I’ll have tons of tomatoes, and then others when I lose a crop a completely. Usually it balances itself out.”
Her best piece of advice to consider when planning your garden this year is the more diversity you have in your garden, the more likely you are to have success. “Just let yourself be flexible and accept that you’ll have some losses and some gains, then you’re bound to have some good things happen in your garden.”
And, for an extra dose of optimism, there may be one good reason to thank this year’s polar vortex. Solomon says pest problems were last year’s biggest culprit, but she and other gardeners are hopeful the recent deep freezes will result in fewer problems this spring.
Stay tuned to for more timely tips on gardening as the growing season progresses.
Do you have a gardening question or tip to share? Post your thoughts in the comments below!