Has your Jack-o'-lantern moved into your compost bin? Have you started thinking about Thanksgiving travel plans? Is your mailbox filled with holiday shopping catalogs? If you answered yes to any of those questions then it's a sure sign that it's late fall. But despite the chilly temps, now is the perfect time to start planning your spring garden.
Whether it's a home, school, or community garden, start the planning process by answering these important questions:
Why are you planting a garden? Is the purpose of the garden simply to produce food or do you also have an educational purpose? From the youngest learners to senior citizens, gardening is a healthful way to learn about food production. Are you growing food to donate to your neighbors in need? If so, does the organization you're donating have specific needs? Do they have refrigeration?
Who will be a part of the garden project? Gardens can be a lot of work, but many hands make light work, so be sure to recruit volunteers early. Draft a task list and make sure that everyone involved knows their specific task. Some of the spring garden chores might include: building a raised bed, tilling soil, ordering seeds, starting seedlings indoors, collecting organic material for a compost bin, weeding, watering, and harvesting.
What do you want to grow? Will you grow vegetables, herbs, flowers, or fruit? Perhaps all of the above! You'll need to order seeds, seedlings, or saplings in advance so make a list of what you'd like to grow and check out seed catalogs and/or nurseries near you. Drawing a garden map can help you to visualize your spring garden and plan for taller plants that might shade lower plants.
How will your spring garden grow? Will you use organic practices? Talk with your group about the benefits of growing organically. Will you buy fertilizer or start a compost bin? Learn about garden helpers such as earthworms and honeybees. When the first tomato horn worm appears will you spray it with pesticide or remove it by hand? Have a plan of action in place for dealing with pests.
Will you build raised beds or plant in containers? Tall containers such as whiskey or wine barrels can be located so that elderly gardeners with limited mobility can easily access them; their tall height means that elderly folks don't have to garden on their hands and knees. Both raised beds and containers can help with drainage. Also, because the soil in both will warm more quickly than the ground, you can expedite your growing season by a few weeks. Check out these instructions for how to build a raised bed.
Where will your garden be located? Maybe you already know that your garden is going in your back yard or school playground. But have you considered if it will get enough sunlight? Are you close to a water source? If you're gardening with young children consider safety and place the garden away from the road.
When will you plant? Gardeners in warmer climates have greater flexibility regarding when they plant their spring garden, but in cooler climates you'll need to consider late frost. When you plant affects what you plant. If you want to plant while temperatures are still cool then consider hearty greens such as spinach, kale, or bok choi.
What challenges do you anticipate? Of course no one has a crystal ball, but you can make some educated predictions. Gardeners in California and Arizona, for example, know that finding water for their gardens is a challenge. What can you do to prepare for this challenge now? Consider planting crops that are more drought tolerant or collecting rain water.
Have you gardened before? If this isn't your first time gardening, take stock of what's worked well before and what needs to be improved. If your tomatoes didn't grow well in raised beds last year then consider downsizing and growing them in containers. If frost killed your zucchini before you could harvest it then get those seeds in the ground sooner. The most seasoned master gardener will tell you that they learn more each season that they garden.
How will you pay for your garden? Gardens costs can add up quickly. Thankfully, there are lots of grants available. Check out these grants to see which ones are a good fit for your group:
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image of gardeners in spring garden via Shutterstock