What can I do now in my garden?

Denee Bex | Special to the Drum

Often, people think that gardening starts in the spring or summer. However, I beg to differ. Instead, gardening starts with dreaming in the winter. When snow is on the ground and the cold winds blows through, I take this time to start planning what I want to grow in the coming spring, summer, and fall. While this time of year may be a struggle for us gardeners, I urge you to take this time to think about what you can do now to set yourself up for success. To give you some ideas, here are five things you can start right now to prepare your garden. 

First, sketch out your garden layout. I did this over the past month and it helped me visualize what I plan to grow and how it will fit into my year. I have six raised beds and several in-ground garden plots. Every winter, I print out graphic paper and draw out my plan. Drawing out my plan helps me figure out what veggies I would like to focus on. This year I did two separate layouts, one for spring/summer and the other for summer/fall. That way I know exactly how to prepare for the bed throughout the rest of the year. For example, if I need to grow certain transplants, I know how much and what types. 

Check if you have enough seeds and organize. I took this time to organize my seeds and see what I have in my storage. I saved seeds from plants last year and my mom gifted me with a bunch of seeds for Christmas, so I think I’m set for the rest of the year. In an effort to conserve, this year I plan to use up my seeds and will not order any. You may just be starting out and building up your seed collection, so now would be the time to acquire your seeds. If last year was any indication of what’s to come, purchasing seeds early may help you avoid the stress.

Now it’s time to start your transplants. Think about which seedlings you’d like to start and prepare an area indoors to start them, if you plan to grow your own seedlings. Last year I grew many varieties of various plants to see what I liked best and what worked for my region. This year, I plan to focus on those veggies that did well so I can boost my production. I moved a few years ago and I found that I live in an area where it’s a cold sink and my last frost date is a little later than the surrounding area. So that means I start my transplants a little later than usual. To help me prepare, I laid out a calendar and wrote out the dates of when I would need to start my transplants so I can move them outdoors at the appropriate times. This month I am going to start my cool-season veggies so I can set them out in March and April.

Organize your garage or tool shed. I don’t know about you, but I become messy very fast, especially when it comes to my gardening tools and supplies. So even though snow may be on the ground now, take this time to organize and clean your space. This will save you so much stress when spring comes around and makes preparing your garden a little easier. You won’t have to worry about where your pruners or shovel went because you’ll have organized and cleaned your area. 

Finally, add nutrition to your garden areas. If there isn’t snow on the ground and it’s not too muddy, take this time to layout compost or aged manure to add nutrition back to the soil. Usually, I do this in the fall, but early spring is a good time as well if you didn’t do it back in the fall. I like to give the organic matter time to decompose in the ground and feed any worms or other beneficial organisms as it warms up. This much needed nutrition will build healthy soil and will increase your vegetable production in the coming months.

While now may be the coldest time of the year, we still have plenty to do for our garden. These five things you can do now will set you up for success in the coming year. If we set ourselves up for success now, we’ll have a lot less stress come planting and growing time.

Denee Bex is a Registered Dietitian and advocate for healthy traditional diets and home-grown foods within Native American communities. She can be reached at Denee.Bex@gmail.com.

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