I want start a garden this spring. What can I do this winter to prepare?
Think. Observe. Plan. Implement.
Take a step back. Think about what you want and why. Is this garden for you to look at? To work in? To eat from? Pick your site and think about how big of a garden you want. What do you want to grow? Where can you put this so that it will provide joy and pleasure? A garden that is too far away or gets overgrown from inattention is a sure way to be disappointed.
Think about how much time you have now and how much time you are willing to devote to gardening during the growing season. Start small. You can always add to your garden later. It’s likely that you will be so much happier having success on a small scale than failing at a more grand project. According to a recent non-scientific survey of one member of our office staff, being overwhelmed is the number one reason people abandon their gardens.
What is happening around your chosen site? Are there tall structures, mountains, or shade trees affecting your sun exposure? (http://www.solarpathfinder.com/) Are there allelopathic species (such as walnut, mountain laurels, or rhododendrons) nearby? Allelopathic plants will inhibit the growth of everything growing around them. What was growing here before? What is in the soil? Lots of clay or sand? Deep topsoil? Trash, broken glass, toxic chemicals, cement? Investigate your soil. Take a few samples throughout the plot. Find out more about free soil testing programs.
Processes of observation can take as long as you want. Often the longer you observe, the better the results. AND it is still possible to get growing quickly. Once you have considered the above factors, you then can begin to plan the practical details.
Your next step is planning: consider your next steps. Attending our Organic Gardening Series or coming to the Annual Spring Conference could be a way to advance your knowledge. You could also begin to plan some planting schedules for an already existing garden area. If you are still getting ready to break ground for a new garden, the location, soil content, and plant choice will inform which method you use to establish your garden. Your time and financial constraints should also be a factor. Our website has a variety of resources to help you get started on your journey. Pick your method: Do you want to build raised beds or plant directly into the ground? There are lots of ways to do either: sheet mulching, raised beds, excavation, or plowing. Start planning/researching how to go about your chosen method. Once you have chosen a method you should gather materials: construction supplies, mulch, organic matter, cardboard, soil, seeds, etc.
Once you have taken the time to consider all of the above and have chosen methods, a site, plants, and realized where your passion lies and how much time you have, Get Growing! Start building, composting, mulching, and seeding. If you need help, enlist your friends and family or find someone you trust to hire.
Organic Growers School offers sustainability coaching and consulting should you desire some one-on-one support for planning, visioning, making decisions and finding quality service providers.
Whatever you do, find a way to have fun, and if it wasn’t that fun, hopefully you learned something. Pass it on!
Brandon Greenstein is the Home-Grower Program Director for Organic Growers School (OGS), developing new initiatives to provide services to home-growers. His background is in Renewable Systems, Earth Works, Energy, Water, and Permaculture, specifically providing consulting, design and technical services for the creation of integrated systems. He has been homesteading, including off-grid living and food production, in the western NC mountains for 20 years.