Helllooooooo 2018. We’re starting out the year with the first of a new series. Hint: It starts with Monthly Gardening and ends with whatever month we’re in 🙂 Hold onto your feathers, friends, it’s going to be a wild ride!
The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else’s responsibility until I’m ready to eat it.
― Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World
This is my first post in the New Year, and guess what? No food. Well, not no food for me. I’m eating food today, thank you very much. No new recipe for the blog today. But that’s OK because we’re talking gardening. While looking back on this little space in 2017, I decided I wanted to share more about gardening. Don’t worry . . . there will still be recipes! We’re just going to peek into how that food gets on the table starting with a teeny tiny seed.
Whether you’re into gardening or not, I think we can all benefit from having a better understanding of where our food comes from. While I don’t think that means every person has to learn to grow their own food, knowing the work it requires has given me a deeper appreciation of the land and those who grow our food . . . off podium, nuff said!
I get a lot of DMs with gardening questions, so I thought I’d start a series of Monthly Gardening posts about what I do each month in the garden (and perhaps a little foraging as well). When I started gardening, I literally had zero clue what I was doing. Although I’m far from an expert, after a lot of trial and error, I’ve really come to learn a thing or two. By sharing these monthly gardening guides, I hope I can save you some trial and error!
You may not think of gardening in January, where it’s already been in the –20s in our zone 4 region, but January is when all the planning, prepping, and pipe dreaming happen around here. As an ENTP, the logistics of implementation and maintenance are not exactly my strong point, but I’ve come to learn just how imperative a solid plan is to the success of the garden. So here we have it, the very first Monthly Gardening: January—Plan, Prep, Dream.
Monthly Gardening: January—Plan, Prep, Dream
Revisit and Revise
The first thing I do when planning the current year’s garden is revisit what went well and what did not go well in the garden last year. This could simply be from memory, but I try my best to record happenings in the garden in my garden journal (more about garden journal below). For example, last year, I did not let the tomatoes harden off adequately and took a chance planting them anyway. They definitely had some transplant shock, so I would have been better off letting them harden longer versus trying to get them in the ground sooner.
I also started the cherry tomatoes too soon indoors. They were very large when I planted them out. It was a super windy day, but I planted them anyway, and ended up losing my Napa Chardonnay cherry tomato plant. She split right in half. I’ve never lost a tomato plant prior to this, so I was absolutely devastated. So this year, I need to start my cherry tomatoes a little later than last year, let all tomatoes harden off adequately, and avoid planting on super windy days.
As mentioned above, I keep a garden journal, which I started last year. The journal I have is A Gardener’s Journal, which can be found here. It’s a 10-year garden journal with a lot of helpful information. It’s a tad pricey, but it’s superiorly organized and extremely durable. I did see some used ones on Amazon that supposedly have not been written in but cannot vouch for them.
What I love most about this journal is that each day is given a page with 10 sections, so that you can see reflections from the prior year on that same day. There are also useful informational pages and reference charts. Although I do utilize some online options to plan my garden (listed below) in addition to the journal, I really utilize the journal for recording what happened throughout the year, so I can better plan for the following year. For example, I note things like when the first asparagus came up, weather patterns, and when we found the first morel mushrooms.
Although I only have one year of recording, I already find this invaluable. There’s also something to be said about physically writing something down that you can later re-read while tangibly touching and turning the pages. Maybe I’m old school, but it has a therapeutic quality to it 🙂 I can’t recommend this enough!
Although I first plan my garden in my garden journal based on last year’s plan and updated revisions, once the plan is final, I record the plan in Google Calendar. I mostly record dates for when I will start plants indoors, direct sow, and transplant seedlings, but I also set reminders for myself to pick up compost, prep beds, etc.
While the journal gives me a calendar view of the whole year, google calendar is really useful on a daily and weekly basis. I can access my calendar on any computer, my phone, and my watch (yes, I caved and bought an apple watch last year). The calendar is synced on all of my devices so they are easily accessible for me and I receive reminders.
Google Calendar is also super helpful for when I need to move tasks. Let’s say I planned to transplant pepper seedlings at the end of May but the weather was terrible. I can simply move the task to another day by dragging it. Also, upon entering the task, I can set it to repeat yearly, so that next year’s calendar will be the same. All I will need to do is adjust the following year based on any revisions that came out of the prior year.
GrowVeg Garden Planner is an excellent tool for beginner gardeners as well as those with large gardens and intricate plans. I find it much quicker and more effective than physically drawing plans. The Garden Planner has over 250 vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers (and thousands of varieties) plus videos and written guides. You can copy last year’s plan, so you’re not starting from scratch. The planner also has crop rotation warnings, making it simpler to promote healthy soil. You can try it for free then the cost is as low as $22.50 per year. They’re also coming out with a free journal this spring.
Seed Inventory and Order
Next is taking inventory of seeds so you have an idea of what you do and do not need. It’s tempting to skip this step and go straight to seed catalogs and sites and ordering everything that sounds exciting. I will admit that I’m guilty of this at times. I have a lot of seeds and love trying new varieties. However, I’m committed to taking seed inventory tonight 🙂 I start my plants from seed starting in February. I prefer starting from seed because the options are endless. One of the primary reasons I started gardening was so I could grow varieties they don’t sell in stores. I order seeds from the following places (in no particular order).
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Baker Creek has over 1800 varieties of vegetables, rare flowers, and herbs from over 100 countries. They offer 100% non-GMO open pollinated seeds. They hands down have the most beautiful catalog and their seed packets are simply stunning (pictured).
Seed Savers Exchange Heirloom Seeds
Seed Savers offer organic seeds in support of their nonprofit mission to preserve garden diversity. They steward a collection of 25,000+ rare and heirloom varieties in a seed bank at their Iowa headquarters. Their farm is only 1.5 hours away from us, and it’s long been on my bucket list to visit their farm and attend their annual tomato tasting event.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Although I tend to grow mostly heirlooms, there are some hybrids I really enjoy for their improved flavor, disease resistance, and climate adaptability. For example, I don’t see any garden in my future that won’t have a Sungold Tomato. Johnny’s does not sell genetically modified seeds, nor do they breed new varieties using genetic engineering. Their breeders use traditional, painstaking methods of natural crossing to create hybrid seeds that are healthy and safe.
Update: this was a new seed company to me in 2018. TomatoFest is one of America’s first family-operated seed distributors to feature only Certified Organic, open-pollinated tomato seeds. They offer 650 heirloom tomato varieties they personally grow and pollinate by hand in order to provide the finest quality, true-to-type, tomato seeds. No hybrids. No GMOs. I tried a handful of new varieties, including African Queen, Blondkopfchen, Garden Peach and more. After an error ordering on my end, the owner himself helped me get it right. I can’t recommend them enough!
Full disclosure: I LOVE growing peppers. Hot peppers, sweet peppers, tiny peppers, huge peppers, peppers for eating fresh, peppers for preserving, peppers for sauce, pickling, freezing, drying, and I’ll stop now. Sandia Seed offers a wide variety of non-GMO, open-pollinated pepper seeds. And I want to try them all.
Local Co-op and Farm Store
I love browsing the seeds at our local co-op and Jolivette Farm Store. This is also where I get potato seed pieces. You never know what I might come home with.
Clean and dust off shelving. Because I start seeds indoors, I need adequate shelving space. I used to use something like this, but Matt built floating shelves out of old barn wood in our mudroom last year, so that’s where the seedlings live now. They look nicer and can be utilized when it’s not growing season.
Make sure your lights aren’t burnt out. You guys, you absolutely do not need “fancy” grow lights to start your own seeds. All I use are plain, ol’ shop fluorescent lights. I combine one warm light with one cool light. Easy, peasy!
Trays and Pots
Clean trays and pots. I got my pots and trays from Megastore Greenhouse and have yet to need to reorder any. During the busy growing season, I can fall behind on cleaning pots and trays, so January is a perfect time to do so to prepare for the coming season.
Take inventory of your tools. Did any break last year? What needs replacing? This is also a good time to sharpen and/or repair tools. If you’re new to gardening, see what you already have and then create a list of items you will need and watch for sales. Also, don’t get too hung up on tools. See what you can get by with and only purchase tools you need to get the job done.
While I used to order Johnny’s 512 Mix, I now use Ohio Earth’s Plant Pro Potting Soil. While I like both, I always wanted to try Ohio Earth because of the exceptional ingredients but the overall cost was better going with Johnny’s. However, Ohio Earth opened up a location in Wisconsin, so I now purchase through them.
Finally, get excited about all of the possibilities for this season! January is when I start to feel the spark and excitement for gardening again. I miss being able to come up with dinner based on what’s thriving in the backyard. Above all, I’m a food lover. Nothing tastes better than something freshly grown with your own two hands. So start dreaming about what the year will bring. For me, that means reading about different varieties, learning from books and articles, and looking at pictures of beautiful gardens. Below are some of my favorite resources.
Seed catalogs. Seed catalogs are usually free and I love snuggling up and reading about new varieties. Baker Creek is my hands down favorite seed catalog.
The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming Book by Jean-Martin Fortier and Marie Bilodeau. While lacking in colorful pictures, this book is an overwhelming wealth of information and one that I constantly refer back to. You can buy it on Amazon, but the link is to Jean-Martin’s website, because it also has great info. It’s no secret that Matt and I are interested with the idea of market farming. We even travelled to the Mother Earth News conference to listen to Jean-Martin speak. He and his wife have found major success in low-tech, high-yield production methods they’ve developed by focusing on growing better rather than growing bigger. I owe much of my gardening success to them, this book, and their teaching.
The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener, 2nd Edition (A Gardener’s Supply Book) by Eliot Coleman and Sheri Amsel. Another great resource for anyone looking to learn how to grow organically. A modern classic, Eliot shares the simplest and most sustainable ways of growing top-quality organic vegetables.
Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, Including 50 Recipes, Plus Harvesting and Storage Tips by Willi Galloway. This is one of the first gardening books I ever bought not only because it has a lot of great information, but also because FOOD. Willi shares easy-to-follow planting and growing information, specific instructions for harvesting all the edible parts of the plant, advice on storing food in a way that maximizes flavor, basic preparation techniques, and recipes. And oh yeah, the pictures are gorgeous.
Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg. So, um, this might be my favorite cookbook ever. Every gardener and anyone who likes vegetables should own this book. Joshua is not only a renowned chef, he worked at Eliot Coleman’s farm in Maine (ya know, the guy that wrote The New Organic Gardener). In his book, Joshua channels both farmer and chef, highlighting the evolving attributes of vegetables throughout their growing seasons—an arc from spring to early summer to midsummer to the bursting harvest of late summer, then ebbing into autumn and, finally, the earthy, mellow sweetness of winter. As Eliot states in his forward, “Put a chef in the garden, and magical things happen.” Amen.
Garden Design Magazine. OK, this is pricey and admittedly a lot of the articles are way more advanced than my level, but it’s just simply stunning. Talk about dreamy.
Heirloom Gardener Magazine. New to me this year, I can’t give a review just yet, but I’ve heard great things and can’t wait to see my first issue, yaassss.
Garden Betty. Linda Ly’s website has a ton of great information and excellent photography.
Growing with Plants. Visit Matt’s blog and it won’t take long to realize how passionate he is about horticulture. I love reading about his projects.
Alright, that’s it! I hope you enjoyed the first Monthly Gardening post. If you think this could help other gardeners, it’d be super swell of you to share this post. Gardening is physically, mentally, and spiritually challenging as well as fulfilling. If you love to garden, I’d love to hear about it! If you’ve ever thought about starting, just do it! Like me, you’ll learn and grow along the way 🙂