How early is too early to start planning your vegetable garden?
Although the weather in March is cold and unpredictable, this is the time to get a jump start on vegetable garden planning. Unlikely tasks, such as yard and shed clean-up, tool repair, compost maintenance and securing and organizing seeds is important now, since the window of opportunity for other time-sensitive tasks may be limited once the weather begins to improve.
Allison Hosford with Two Pond Farm in West Milford, offers lectures at Glenwild Gardens on gardening tasks such as garden planning and composting. This year’s vegetable garden planning talk will happen on March 18th where Allison will discuss early season composting, and tasks like repairs, garden plotting, seeds, and pest proofing.
“At this time of year, you are likely in the worst shape of the entire year,” Allison said. “It’s good to do all those things you aren’t in the best shape to do… Lay out your garden, plan it. Talk to other people, trade seeds…”
Keep reading to get an overview of what gardening tasks are best done now, before spring settles in.
Get planning your vegetable garden
Allison’s favorite advice for gardeners building their first planting bed is to place it where you will see it every day. She recommends in the front yard, or near the back door or patio. If it is in a hidden corner where you don’t walk daily, then dehydration, wilting, pest infestation, and rotted harvests are likely.
Established gardeners should start by drawing a sketch or outline of last year’s garden plot. This doesn’t need to be big or intricate, Allison said. However, it does need to indicate what grew in your vegetable garden the prior year, and where. Save these diagrams for future reference. This is essential since Allison said plants should be rotated yearly, and that the same type of vegetable should not be planted in the same spot for another three to five years.
“The only way to do that is to keep track of what you planned,” Allison said. “Give yourself three raised beds (for example), then completely move things from one bed to another each year. That gives you a guaranteed three year crop rotation.”
Since different kinds of plants require different nutrients, this will ensure your garden’s soil is never completely depleted over time. Rotation also prevents re-infestations of plant-specific insects who may have a new generation awaiting to hatch and devour this year’s crop.
Give your compost some attention
Compost is an important element of vegetable garden planning, and a little attention to your compost heap now will ensure you have rich soil to amend your beds later in the spring. Allison loves a “hands off,” no-turn compost pile that doesn’t require much attention throughout the year. She accomplishes this by layering yard waste with sawdust and a sprinkling of fireplace or campfire ash. The ash works similarly to lime, balancing out the increasing acidity natural to our local area in northern New Jersey.
She recommends that layers of organic yard waste be no more than four inches thick, and include a mixture of leaves and other yard waste, as well as manure, or compost pulled from the bottom of the heap. The compost or manure will help to reintroduce the organisms needed to turn organic waste into compost. Allison may go as long as a year without removing soil from the heap, while continuing to add layers. However, if you need soil sooner, feel free to pull it from the bottom in the fall or spring.
If starting a new compost pile, Allison said to create a base layer of sticks and branches at the bottom to provide the pile necessary air circulation.
Pest proofing your garden
Pest-proofing your vegetable garden can be time consuming. Early spring is the perfect time to tackle this task before plants go in the ground. Fencing that will prevent your yard’s most wanted critters from indulging on your vegetables will vary depending on location and pest. For example, installing fencing to prevent woodchucks (also known as groundhogs), means ensuring a height of at least three feet, but also laying mesh fencing along the ground to prevent burrowing underneath.
Use this time when the days are short and not much is growing to research counteractive measures for your yard’s pests (or ask Allison during her Glenwild lecture!). Then, get started on those projects before warmer weather brings other tasks to the forefront.
Continue learning about vegetable garden planning
On March 18th, Allison will be hosting a free vegetable garden planning talk at Glenwild Gardens to discuss these and other garden planning concerns. She will provide detailed information and guidance on the topics discussed here, and more. Come prepared with your questions, as Allison said the talk will be attendee-led, and a large portion of the one-and-a-half hour session will be devoted to Q&A from participants.
“Chances are good if one person has a question, two or three other people have the same question,” Allison said.
In addition to the talk at Glenwild, Two Pond is offering three progressive organic gardening workshops at the farm this spring. Each class is scheduled to coordinate with the appropriate time to complete the skills being taught. In each of these hands-on classes will leave with something you have made or will use in your garden.
February 18: Organic vegetable gardening for beginners
March 11: Saving seeds, starting seeds and composting
April TBD: Advanced techniques such as crop rotation, succession planting, companion planting, fortifying soil.
All classes run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the cost includes all materials, plus a light breakfast and full lunch.
The workshops are run by Allison together with Judy DeJosia, a Two Pond Farm gardener, cook and educator with Growing with Food. To learn more about the above workshops at Two Pond Farm and to register, visit Two Pond Farm.
To register for Glenwild’s free vegetable garden planning talk with Allison, visit our Classes page.
By Jodie of Glenwild Gardens
Since 1928 when Alexander J. MacKenn started his design, landscape and nursery business, exceptional customer service, peerless design, and the highest quality products have always been an integral part of our business model. These continue to be our bedrock principles and inform everything we do.