Ok, you have decided you want to have a garden. You have a tentative plan to handle the work. You have made a list of what you think you want to grow. You have done some research by reading some books, looked at catalogs, watched videos and are now ready for the next step.
Step 4: Where Am I Going To Garden?
Gardening at home is definitely more convenient. You can walk right out the back door and pick tomatoes or lettuce for lunch or beans for supper.
Look at your yard. If you haven't paid attention to the sunlight in your backyard. Now is the time to start.
Most veggies need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. Some will grow with less. If you have too any trees you are faced with a decision of cutting some down or looking at other options.
Patio gardening with pots or containers is another option but again you need the sunlight.
Another option might be gardening at a friend or relative's house.
Another option is the River Valley Area Community Gardens or a community garden in your town or city. There is definitely enough sunshine. At RVACG, there is also the option of a mentor to help get you started and lots of people to visit with to get advice on gardening things.
With ornamental gardening, there is a much greater variety of plants for all varieties of sunlight from shade to partial shade to partial sun to full sun.
Step 5: Decide whether you want to start seeds early, direct sow into the ground or buy transplants
Starting seeds early can be fun. It is exciting to see their little leaves popping out of the starting soil. You need lots of light and warmth to start seeds at home. The recommendations for light run around 14 hours and consistent heat around 70 for starting seeds. Many people put in a special grow light over the table where their seeds are germinating. The light provides both warmth and light.
Direct sowing into the ground is also an option. It means that you may have to wait an extra week or three for produce but it is still good. This is also where that maturity date is important. You don't want to plant a watermelon that takes 120 days to maturity and plant it June 1. If you are lucky, you will be harvesting around Oct. 1 but frost may get it first.
If you are growing a small garden you might want to go to a greenhouse and purchase seedlings. The seedling transplants will give you produce a bit earlier than the direct sown seeds. Growers are starting seeds for everything. You can even purchase sweet corn transplants now. Almost There between Spring Green and Arena has both 4 packs and single purchase seedlings, especially in tomatoes so you aren't wasting seedlings. If you have room you can plant the extra plants to give produce to the food pantry or give the extras to friends.
Anyway you choose is fine. You will learn what works best for you and your family.
Not to discourage you but I am not a successful seed starter. I have a small garden. I didn't have a place to easily keep the seed trays when I started them nor a place to put a light. I have opted to purchase seedlings of tomatoes, cabbage and marigolds. It is easier. I have opted to plant seeds for sweet corn, lettuce, peas, beans and zinnas.
Either way, you will probably want to purchase some seeds to purchase. You need to know how to read the information on a seed packet to successfully grow your seeds.
Step 6: Reading a Seed Packet or a Transplant Label
You are at the store or the greenhouse/nursery looking at seed packets and later in the season seedling tags.
Each packet contains approximately the same information but arranged differently according to company. You need that information to make a good decision on what seeds to buy.
What are you looking for?
Description of the plant which may include tips to grow it successfully .
Light requirements: Shade; Sun/Partial shade; Sun; or Full Sun
Direct Sow information / Start Indoors information
Days to Germination: Always helpful so you know when to start looking for the leaves
Days to Maturity: When can you expect to harvest
When to Plant: Before last frost / After last frost / When soil warms
Thin to: Spacing between plants
Remember you want to specifically look at the light requirements, days to maturity, and when to plant.
Want more information?
In Megan Cain's book Smart Start Garden Planner, she has a "Veggie Essentials Cheat Sheet" which provides a lot of information including whether to direct seed or transplant. On her web site she has a series of blogs under Plan Your Garden.
There are many web sites that explain how to read a seed packet. These are only a few of the ones I checked.
Ferry Morse Seed Company
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
A search in Google, Bing, or whatever browser you use will turn up lots of articles on reading a seed packet. I did not check YouTube but I am sure there are videos too. Go for it.
Ready, set, purchase!
Transplant seedlings will have most of the same information on their tags but none of the greenhouses should be selling any of those before early to mid April. You do not want to purchase them until you are and the soil are ready for them or they will not survive.
Next time, we will be talking about cool weather and warm weather crops and getting your garden ready for planting.
"Hey, Let's start a garden this year" Maybe you heard something like that or said it.
Maybe you just made the decision.
OK, is this really what you want to do?
We will look at the process over the next few weeks.
Step 1: Deciding to Garden
Why do you want to garden?
I want to grow my own food.
I want to learn a new skill.
My folks had a garden when I was young.
It looks like fun.
I want to save some money.
I want to get outside more and do get some exercise.
It looks easy, after all I only have to stick a seed or plant in the ground and let it grow
It can be fun to grow your own food but it is work which varies on the gardening method you use.
Ornamental gardening to attract pollinators or to beautify your yard and enhance curb appeal for your home looks easy and doesn't require harvesting but it also takes work.
You will definitely learn new skills and if you continue gardening you will continue to learn more each year.
Saving money can go either way depending on what type of gardening you are going to do. It always costs money to start a new hobby, but the food tastes so much better when you grow it yourself and flowers and plants always brighten up a yard, patio or house.
You will be outside and you will get more exercise.
How much time do you have? Who is going to do the work?
Gardening requires time and a commitment even if it is only a few pots on the patio.
Talk with the family.
The most work intensive times are planting and harvesting.
Spring, summer and fall can get really busy with outside activities. Although Covid 19 gave us all a lot of down time in 2020, we have learned to navigate the world and the vaccines are promising a time when life will be opening up and regular activities resuming.
Will you have time to devote to this new hobby? Or, how are you going to work the time required for gardening into your daily or weekly schedule?
Step 2: What do you want to plant
Before you decide to garden, make a list of the veggies or flowers you want to plant.
Consider what your family likes to eat, What plants catch your interest?
Maybe you want to plant ornamental plants to attract pollinators, birds, butterflies, or hummingbirds to your yard.
Maybe you would like to help protect the soil and water table as well as attract pollinators and are interested in planting native plants.
There is so much variety out there.
Step 3: Research what you want to plant
GMO vs non-GMO seeds / Organic vs Non-organic seedlings: If you want to plant veggies, you need to decide whether you are planting GMO (genetically modified organisms) seeds or non-GMO. Even the seedlings that you purchase can be organically started or non-organically started. There are health questions to ask about GMO seeds and non-organic seedlings.
Then there is the question of hybrid seeds versus heirloom seeds. Some gardeners are preferring to plant heirloom seeds which are non-GMO seeds from plants that were planted and cultivated over the many years of gardening by our ancestors. Heirloom seeds have a rich heritage of providing for many generations of families. The hybrid seeds have been developed from these heirloom seeds through many years of interbreeding and testing. Hybrid seeds are often developed to be disease resistant, taste better, have either longer or shorter maturity dates, be better looking...get the picture.
Books, wonderful books, on gardening are available through your local library. I would recommend starting there before purchasing a book. If you find a book that you like, then purchase it.
Last year, I found a wonderful book, Smart Start Garden Planner by Megan Cain. The web site The Creative Vegetable Gardener previews pages from the book and gives puchasing information. It also provides many charts and graphs with lots of planting and spacing information for veggies. Megan lives in Madison, WI so her advice and information are relevant to the greater River Valley area and the Midwest.
Seed catalogs are another good source of information. Most companies now have their catalogs online.
Mother Earth news has a list of the 22 Best Seed Catalogs and a list of the Best Vegetable Seed Companies.
Birds and Bloom Magazine also published a list of what it considers the 10 Seed Catalogs Every Gardener Needs.
The Old Farmer's Almanac has a list of 40+ Free Garden Seed Catalogs and Plant Catalogs with mailing addresses and phone numbers.
There are many more seed companies that are not on the lists. This doesn't make them poor or bad so don't be afraid to use them.
Local stores now have seed packets on display. This is the time of year that it is fun just to go into a store and browse the seed packet displays even if you don't know what you want to buy.
Locally Doerre Hardware, Ederer Dairy Supply, and Mazomaine Hardware have seeds. Heck's Market usually has seeds.
In Dodgeville, Farm and Fleet has Livingston Seeds and Walmart has a variety including Burpee seeds.
In Richland Center, Walmart has seeds and check the Do-It Center or Ace Hardware.
In the Madison area my favorite seed spots are Jungs Seeds in Fitchburg and the Bruce Company in Middleton. The Bruce Company has seeds from Seed Savers, Botanical Interests, and Renee's Seeds which are all mentioned on the lists.
When you are looking at seed descriptions online, in a catalog, or in a store, you need to consider the maturity date. The maturity date is the average number of days that it takes a plant to grow from planting to harvest. The maturity date should not be confused with the germination time which is the average number of days it takes a seed to sprout and emerge from the soil after planting.
When I shop for seeds, I know that I am not planting much before June 1 for most of my veggies and I want to harvest between the end of July and early to mid-September, at the latest. Therefore, I am want a maturity date of 80-90 days. The exceptions would be popcorn, squash, pumpkins, potatoes, sweet potatoes and a few others which can handle a light frost if we get one in mid-September.
But, more on this later....your minds are full. Go dream. Check out a few books. Visit YouTube for gardening videos. Visit the Creative Vegetable Gardener's web site. Shop, but you don't need to buy yet unless you see something you just have to have.
In a few days we will talk about your site and planting options, buying seeds, getting ready to plant. Any questions, please ask.