Now that it’s January, gardening may be the last thing on your mind. Of course it depends on where you live — while our friends south of the equator enjoy long days and warm temperatures, I can tell you it’s cold here North Carolina.
Nonetheless, winter is one of the best times to think about gardening! The cold winter months when many plants lie dormant are the perfect time to plan your garden layout and decide on your vegetable, fruit and flower choices.
Selecting The Location
Some of you may already know from experience where to locate your garden plots so as to get the most from your land. But if you are starting fresh, now is the best time to chose your location. Find a place with the most sun throughout the day. There are very few fruits or vegetables that do well in shade. Most fruiting plants need at least six hours of sun daily to create their bounty, but more is even better.
Choosing a Bed
A traditional bed is plowed directly into the ground. While it’s easy to turn the soil in a small plot with a hand hoe, the larger the plot, the more work! If you’re an urban gardener working in a tiny space… no sweat, but if you have a large backyard you may want to start saving now to invest in a tiller (you can also rent one).
If you live near a university with an agricultural extension office, why not bring them a sample of your soil so they can test it to see if you should plan on adding any additional nutrients. It’s best to know now rather then lose your first crop in the spring due to poor soil conditions. (learn more about Agricultural Extension Offices).
If you would like to cut back on weeding and have more control over soil quality, consider raised beds, which have become very popular. Any garden raised above the ground is a raised bed, so there is no specific height requirement you need to follow. I have a few only 4” above the ground, and some as high as 18”. I’ve seen raised beds as tall as 4′ in gardens as well. They are great for when you don’t want to bend over to work in your garden. They can be made out of concrete, rock, wood or whatever you have laying around. You do have to move your dirt into these beds of course, but this allows you to purchase high quality soil up front or add your own compost mix. If you go this route, keep in mind that raised beds require more watering than traditional beds.
Writing a journal is a great way to save your ideas throughout the winter. You can note measurements and keep track of important phone numbers for resources such as your local extension office or agricultural college. You can also track the sun’s location in your yard, and jot down all the plants you’ve seen in magazines or online that have caught your eye. The info you keep in your journal will definitely come in handy.
Remember, it’s time to start planning now, before you start planting and become too busy weeding and working in the garden.