We're at that point in winter where it seems like Mother Nature can't decide which way she wants to go... One day it's snowing and the next feels like The Great Thaw!
I love and hate this time of year!
I'm so ready to be outdoors preparing the ground for the next season of gardening but it's still uncomfortably cold and miserably wet and muddy.
However, despite the chill of "Old Man Winter," you can still be doing things indoors to make sure you ready when the "official" gardening season hits!
What are the things you can do right now, you ask? I'll tell ya!
If you haven't already, you need to do your seed and root shopping now, especially for those items you REALLY want to grow this year!
Everyone is into gardening right now, and I've already noticed the "Out of Stock" label on a lot of virtual shelves across varying seed companies. In fact, I did my shopping over a month ago (It's February 28th right now) and some of the items I wanted to purchase were already out of stock.
While you can almost always find seed packets for generic varieties of tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, peas and beans at your big box stores, Tractor Supply, or nursery, you may notice specialty items leaving the shelves rather quickly.
So, don't be left in the dirt (haha)! Get out your catalogues, pull up your favorite seed companies, or go to your favorite seed suppliers in town and get those seeds purchased while the getting is still good!
Additionally, you want to purchase your root crops now! You can generally plant things like garlic, onions, and potatoes once the ground is workable in the early spring. And while I've noticed some of these items on the shelves of local stores, you don't want to wait to order them.
Companies have set shipping dates for these items and you can easily get put on the waiting list if you, well, wait too long. If you live in a short season area like we do here in Michigan, time is of the essence and you want to get those longer season plants (like onions) in the ground ASAP!
If you haven't already (such an encouraging phrase), you need to start your larger cool season plants indoors right now. Things like celery, asparagus, bunching onions, cabbages, large kales, cauliflower, and broccoli can be started 8-10 weeks BEFORE your last frost date so they'll have a nice head start before you put them in the garden.
To be clear, I live in SW Michigan (zone 6b), and our current last frost date is estimated to be May 5th, which is nine weeks and four days away.
If you're going by seed packets directions or most planting guides, they'll suggest starting some of these plants 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. I, however, like to bend the "rules" a bit and get them started around Valentine's Day. This is because I want them to be nice and hearty when I move them out in early March.
There are some things to consider when you're starting your seeds indoors - things like cell size, soil medium, water and temperature considerations, grow lights and more.
So if you haven't already, I highly encourage you to check out my. Both of these resources will guide you in how, when and where to start your seeds and detail all the supplies you'll need to get started. There are lots of hot tips for starting seeds on a budget as well!
ANOTHER HOT TIP: You should also start some warm/hot season plants like eggplant, peppers, artichoke and even Swiss chard now, especially if you live in a short season area like Michigan.
If you're feeling cooped up and longing for warmer weather, designing your garden beds can be a welcome distraction.
Sketching out your beds ahead of time AND planning what you put in them is incredibly helpful for a couple of reasons.
Number one, it helps you wrap your mind around the specific plants you want to grow AND about how many you'll need PER bed.
Number two, you'll be able to figure out ahead of time how you want to arrange your plants in your beds. Do you like to interplant different varieties of plants using intensive planting and companion plants? Or do you like the simplicity of monocropping (growing all of the same variety in the same place)?
Ask yourself these questions before you start:
1. WHAT do you want to grow & why?
2. WHO is going to be eating what you grow?
3. HOW MUCH do you need to grow to meet the needs of your "who"?
4. WHEN are you going to plant these plants? (If you're confused about your seasons, grab my Seasonal Planting Guide.)
5. HOW are you going to arrange the plants inside each bed?
By getting all of this on a physical piece of paper, you'll realize real quick if you have enough (or not enough) plants to fill the beds - although I've rarely met a gardener with not enough plants! 😂
Tarps, cardboard, newspaper, mulch and compost... These are all things you can be putting to work right now to help prepare your garden beds for the spring. Even if you have snow on the ground!
If you haven't already marked your garden beds, you'll want to do that first. You want to differentiate between your garden beds and your pathways. If you can't tell the pathway from the bed, no big deal. Just follow the directions below and all of the ground will be ready for plants in the spring.
Next, if you have compost, old leaves, straw, wood chips, coffee grounds, food scraps (fruits & veggies only) or manure from farm animals (NOT dogs and cats), you can layer any of those items on your garden beds and then place a black tarp or cardboard (with tape and staples removed) over it and let it cook until you're ready to plant.
NOTE: If you have snow on the ground, you can absolutely layer the above items on top of the snow and then lay your tarp/cardboard down. It's all going to melt anyway and the water will help break down the materials.
Even in the cooler weather, the sun's heat will be attracted to and trapped beneath the tarp/cardboard, causing the organic matter underneath to break down and decompose, providing a host of nutrients to your garden. This is basically composting!
This is a method of gardening I've used for years called, Lasagna Gardening, or "sheet composting." Ideally, you would do this layering process in the fall, when grass is dying and the leaves are falling, but I have done this at the end of winter/beginning of spring and still had great success.
The gist of what I'm saying is, if you can plot out your garden beds and lay down some compost and other nutrient-rich material on them BEFORE you put your plants in the ground, you'll be setting yourself up for success when it's time to start planting!
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Last but not least, make sure you have all the supplies you need to get your gardening growing in the spring.
First off, take inventory your gloves, clippers, shovels, rakes, trowels, pots, dibbers, and whatever else you use in the garden regularly. Then, replace broken or missing items. It's never fun to discover you're missing your favorite trowel when it's time to start digging!
You will also want to clean and disinfect your tools if you didn't do it at the end of the season. Dust, dirt, rust and bacteria can all reside on your garden tools unless you clean them properly. Worst-case scenario, bacteria and viruses can transfer from your tools to your newly planted seedlings, causing failure to thrive and death. No one wants that!
So, get on your work pants, boots and a warm hat and go clean your tools!
Last but not least, stock up on items like seed starting mix, potting soil, gloves, fertilizer, worm castings or whatever supplies you ran out of last season or are running low on now.
Again, taking inventory is annoying, yet necessary to prevent running out in a crucial moment!
And that's it folks!
There is SO MUCH you can be doing RIGHT NOW to make sure you're ready for the spring! Just PLEASE take my advice and don't put these activities off. You'll feel so much better (and less stressed) to know you've done the hard work ahead of time.
And let's just be honest, it's not that hard to plan ahead for your garden, now is it??
Didn't think so.
AND DON'T FORGET... you can find all kinds of helpful resources for getting ready for the spring over! I've created some wonderful workshops and guidebooks that will guide you through step-by-step through all these activities!