It takes a lot of preparation and planning to get the bare beds of the vegetable garden through the seasons from late Fall clean up to…
…the cloak of winter snow…
…to the planting in the Spring…
…to the final burst of glory in the summer!
One often thinks that when the garden goes to sleep in the winter, so does the gardener. Not so my friends. We wish that we could with the early dark nights and the cold temps but there is much planning to be done and this is the time to do it. The warmer temperatures will bring the need to be out IN the garden, not dreaming about it like a gardener does in the winter months. I always watched my mom in her garden but sad to say, never really helped her. My sister and I liked bigger more powerful things than a hand shovel… like to ride on the mower that we learned how to ride to cut the ten or so acres of grass and fields. That was WAY more fun, until we got our licenses and then it seemed to have lost its novelty.
My interest in outside gardening began with the purchase of our first house. Upon getting married, we lived in apartments and then townhouses and by the time we purchased our first home the glossy pages of the Martha Stewart magazine as well as Better Homes and Garden called to me. Since I had always loved flowers, I thought I would start planting my own. With the small successes of my early gardening efforts and being able to cut flowers all the growing season long, I thought I would move on to vegetables. Many of our kids will remember days when they were little squishing tomatoes in the garden as we cleaned out the beds or planted a corn teepee. If you have littles, involve them for they might just love it! In fact, I vividly recall staking our tomato plants in our vegetable garden when I went into labor with our fourth child. Had to finish the job before we headed to the hospital… but that is a story for another post!
I am a horrible inside plant keeper. They always die for lack of water and attention, unless they are sitting next to my kitchen sink or better yet… In my kitchen sink. The outside is a different story. Perhaps it is the sun and the dirt, possibly the smell of the earth and the colors of the green grass and blue skies that form the floor and the canopy under which a gardener works on and under, that creates the passionate interest that causes success. I find weeding therapeutic, much to the chagrin of my husband, and spending an early morning or afternoon out in the garden making progress is my idea of a perfect day! Before that can happen though, the planning must occur. One thing I have found out over the years is that organization is key for planting in time, so that your pumpkins are ready for harvest in the Fall and in time for Halloween… not Christmas!
One of my favorite ways to plan the vegetable garden for the upcoming season is to sit at a table with many of my favorite garden publications and magazines spread out before me, along with a cup of tea, preferably on a snowy day (this does not always happen). The snowy day factor makes one long even more so for the sunny days to be spent bringing your plan to fruition! I like to make a list of the vegetables, herbs and flowers that I would like to incorporate into the garden and then sketch it out, keeping in mind that you have to rotate the vegetables in your beds each and every year so as to help with disease prevention.
When we moved into Willowbrook Farm, we inherited quite a large vegetable garden with raised beds that had been formed by filling in the old Pre 1940’s swimming pool which had previously been fed by an underground spring. I think everything on this property is fed by an underground spring, including the basement! It was quite overgrown and the raised bed boxes were rotting out. We pulled out as much of the very invasive mint that we could, transplanted some gorgeous peony plants from it to other garden beds and redesigned it, adding a gravel path, a boxwood circle and stone lined edging where the edges of the old pool sits underneath. Rumor has it that this pool was the largest in the county… and the coldest! In planting these beds, there is a lot of ground to be covered and tons of space to plant as much as one’s little heart desires. The problem with that scenario is maintaining it but I will address that in a subsequant post.
Keep in mind that I am not an artist and you do not have to be either! You just want to make a general plan incorporating what you want to plant and where, as well as any structures or supports that you want to utilize in the beds. There are also some great sites online that you can go to where you do not even have to draw! I have not used them as of yet, but hope to in the future. One such site that I signed up for that gives you the ability to plan on your computer as well as to get notifications of when you need to plant from seeds and seedlings specific to your area is:
https://www.almanac.com/gardening/planting-dates/zipcode/19355 (this will send me reminder emails on when I need to sow seeds indoors or into the ground)
Many of the garden publications have similar applications so check them out to find one that might work for you.
After sketching out the layout of the vegetable garden, I utilize this old shed on the left hand side, that adjoins the garden as my staging ground. I am so very fortunate that when filling in the old pool and turning it into a garden, the prior owners had the foresight to utilize the old pool house changing stalls for a garden shed. They did not knock down the structure thank goodness but kept it and used it for another purpose. We turned one of the changing rooms into the chicken coop and the other one houses all of our gardening tools and equipment.
Here I pin up the seed packets as I acquire them, trying to hang them in the order in which I will plant them. I found out the hard way year after year, that I always lost track of my seed packets and just as the season was passing for a particular plant, I would find the packet or packets of seeds that I had needed. I actually adapted this idea from a good friend, David, who helped redesign the garden one year. As he planted the seeds he would write on the packet and hang them. I often use the seed packets to mount in the garden where I plant them so decided doing it this way, would work better for me. Thanks David!
Along with the seed packets I printed a copy of the planting guide for my area from The Old Farmers Almanac that my oldest son reads every year voraciously. This is one of the guides that I found online on the sites mentioned earlier. I will check off each one as I plant them. I realize that as you are reading this right now, many of you do not have a garden shed. If you do not, keep dreaming for it might appear one day and if you have no interest in a shed, work out of your garage or any place where you can corral all your materials. I worked out of our garage in our last house for over ten years and had my little gardening area set up in that space. Yes, it was often over run by tricycles and bicycles, sports equipment and the likes but it worked. You can make it as pretty as you want, just make sure that its functional. As I said earlier, I was fortunate that this structure was here when we moved in. It was something that I always dreamed about. My whole family thinks that I am a little nutty in dreaming about such things or the fact that I had to turn the other side into a chicken coop, in which turn brought rodents to the shed which grew to be the size of rabbits. Those are the challenges of living with nature. We did have to chase away the rodents for fear that they might eat the chickens, so in hindsight, while chickens are super cool, be aware that their feed AND those cool eggs might bring critters who want to partake in them too!
I have never started plants from seeds in pots to be transferred to the garden when ready… never. Mostly because time is an issue and I always found myself caught too late in the game by not planning well enough in advance to make things happen when they needed to. Year by year, I have been slowly working on that, realizing how important gardening is to me and how uplifting its benefits are. It is the one thing that has been constant in my adult journey on this earth and we are incorporating more of this in our business plan for this year and next. We started working towards that goal by adding a greenhouse last year across from the old pool house-turned garden shed.
I had it built out of old reclaimed windows that we had been collecting and this is where I plan to start my seedlings in the Fall. We are still working on a heat source and are looking at some alternative ways of doing it, so until then, we will collect all of our plant material in here as I bring it in from my favorite gardening centers out past Morgantown. I take my trailer out there and buy in bulk. The prices and variety are great if you travel a little farther away from where we live.
We just hauled this cool old workbench from my stash in the garage in which I am having the iron sink, that I found a few years ago, inserted on top. I am not running water to this structure but I have a hose attached to an old spigot in the garden which comes through one of the windows. In here is where my dreams again fly to as I think of holding classes on the growing, care and purpose of all that springs up in the garden… flowers, herbs and vegetables. Our goal is to grow everything on site that we use here in our events, organically and responsibly. From this gardening business plan also springs what we are calling THE FLOWER PROJECT. This is where we partner with local florists who have leftover flowers after their weekend events that they can drop off or we can pick up to then be assembled into smaller arrangements by volunteers who will then take them to local nursing homes, retirements communities and the likes. We have been working on the system and securing the florists who would like to participate so if you are a florist who is interested, please reach out.
I am also consulting with two women from England whose aesthetic of wild, beautiful productive gardens I admire and as that project progresses, I cannot wait to share with you it’s steps. Check them out in the interim, for they are beyond inspiring. Maybe one day, I can go and visit their creations for I truly adore the English cottage garden spilling wildly over its boundary walls or boxwoods although carefully curated and arranged it looks not to have been planned.
If you are a gardener that starts from seed, I would love to hear your tips so if you would like to share I would be very grateful. I am looking for soil pots right now that can be inserted right into the garden and decompose instead of using plastic. Until then, I will sow seeds outdoors when the soil is warm enough and start from seedlings that have already been grown elsewhere.
While I give you my gardening tips for planning your garden, I want to make you aware that it has taken me years to get to this state. Years of what I like to call “trial and error gardening.” Years of garden planting where we got everything in the ground and it was growing like gang busters and then went away on vacation to have had the deer get in the garden and eat everything on site for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Years of having the time to get everything in the ground beautifully but then no time to maintain it and the weeds took over and choked everything out. Years of blight or disease or not enough rain or too much rain. That is the nature of this hobby. You are at the mercy of both nature and your own schedule. But with anything that is near and dear to your heart, you will work through those issues to create what makes your heart sing.
With wishes for the results of this last unexpected snowstorm to melt and melt quickly, I hope to see you in the garden.