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Got the Gardening Bug?

One of many jars of homemade pickles we consumed last summer.

I’m sitting here eating a BBQ sandwich and a pickle spear and I can’t tell you how much I wish the pickle on my plate was from my own garden! Nothing again Vlasic, I’m sure they’re very nice over there. But store-bought doesn’t compare to the taste and crunch of pickles made from cucumbers grown in my own backyard.

No doubt about it, the gardening bug has infected me again! And although we’ve had an unseasonably warm spring, it’s not quite time to plant the summer garden yet (check out last month’s post on proper planting time). However, there are so many things you can do right now to enjoy the beautiful weather and lay the foundation for a successful gardening season. Read on to find out:

Cukes destined to become pickles!

For the new gardener:

  • Choose a location: Observe your yard closely so you can choose a location for your garden to thrive. Wait until there are leaves on the trees and select a well-draining area that gets 6+ hours of full sun.

  • Decide what to grow: Stick with a few varieties to master the first year to ensure you don’t become overwhelmed. Choose vegetables and fruits your family eats often so you’ll fully utilize your garden and look forward to harvesting.

  • Select the right infrastructure and assemble: I prefer a raised bed like this one as it helps with weed pressure, is less taxing on my back, and can be instantly and easily filled with good soil and compost. If you plan to grow vining plants such as melons, zucchini, and some cucumbers, invest in trellises (or make your own). You’ll want to train the vines up them to save ground space for other plants.

  • Prepare your soil: If using raised beds fill with a native soil/compost blend leaving 4” at the top, spread a slow release fertilizer, and then top with 2-3” of compost. If tilling, till down at least 8”, heavily amending the soil with compost, then work a slow release fertilizer into the soil surface (NEVER till wet soil, you will ruin your soil structure and it’s almost impossible to fix).

  • Research: Check out your local library or any number of online resources and do some reading on how to garden. I love the book Vegetables Love Flowers – it’s a fun and easy read about how to work with nature, not against her, to manage pests and disease in the garden. Check your seed packets for days to maturity and planting instructions. If information is missing, Google it to make sure you get off to the right start.

An 8" raised bed I built for a winter garden and later moved to a sunnier location so it could be a summer garden.

For all gardeners:

  • Purchase seeds and seed starting equipment: If you plan to start anything from seed, purchase those now to get ahead of the crowd and ensure you have a good selection.

  • Start seeds indoors: Just make sure you have space and resources to transfer them to bigger pots that you can keep warm and well lit.

  • Weed: Weed now to keep them from going to seed so you can begin to exhaust the seedbank and break the cycle.

  • Test your soil: Send a sample of your garden soil to your local ag extension to find out what amendments should be added.

  • Prepare existing beds: Clear out dead plants, top with compost, add amendments. Bonus points- tarp your garden until it’s time the plant to help heat up the soil and prevent weeds from popping up.

  • Map it out: Create a plan for where you will plant things in your garden to ensure you utilize every square foot and don’t over or under plant.

  • Ready your tools: Repair any broken tools and sharpen snips, clippers, hoes, and shovels.

If you’ve done all these steps and still have the itch to garden, you can use season extenders to cheat the weather and get a head start on your growing season. I’ll go into more detail about these options in next week’s blog post so stay tuned and until then, happy gardening!

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