A New Year!! . . . . Now what??
You are probably checking this blog article because you have been thinking about growing your own food but not sure where to begin. Or maybe you have tried a garden before but something didn’t work as well as you wanted it to. Or maybe yet, you have been gardening for a while but you want some tips and tricks for the new year.
Although I will put some tips and tricks throughout this article, many MANY books have been written about starting a garden and there are SO MANY articles with tricks that I will not be focusing so much on the specifics but on a broad overview for this blog. Don’t worry though, like our Facebook page and our youtube channel to hear more tips and tricks.
We have set up a group on our Facebook page as an area to get your questions answered and to also be a place of celebration for each milestone along the way to your gardening goals. https://www.facebook.com/groups/443489996796100
Let’s get started . . . .
Why are we talking about gardening in January? Shouldn’t we wait till March or April? Short answer . . . don’t wait! Seeds and gardening materials go quick once the season starts and for that matter if you are considering gardening some of the plants you may want to grow starting in February! Crazy I know!
Don’t panic though, we are here to help get you started.
First . . . Make the decision!
Make the decision to garden or not to garden. Do you have space? Do you have the time? Are you going to use garden beds, raised beds, or containers? How are you going to water your garden? Where are you going to put your garden or containers? Are you going to start from seed or are you going to use starters?
I know it is a lot, but let’s break it down.
How much space should you use for your garden? Well that depends . . . if you are going to use raised beds (which I strongly recommend), think about starting with 1 or 2 3’-0”x5’-0” beds. Why 3’-0”? You can reach it from either side. Why 5’-0”? No good reason, it tends to be the standard but don’t worry if you go larger or smaller.
What about if you don’t have the space for a raised garden bed? Container gardening is a great option for those smaller spaces. Container gardens are also great for apartments or if you are planning on moving during the summer. Quick tip, treat garden bags like container gardens even though I know there are some garden bags they still act like containers with closed bottoms.
Do you have the time? Gardening does take time, between planting and weeding and watering and the oh so glorious harvesting. It is a lot of time? It depends on how much you want to put into it. I have spent as little as 20-30 minutes a day on my garden beds (2 – 3’x5’ beds) but I have also had weeks where I needed to spend an hour a day. It just depends, but know you will need to think of 30 minutes a day to be safe.
Water is a big deal in the western states, so know how you are going to water. Automatic systems are great, even if they are a timer off a hose bib. An automatic system will not only save you time but also tend to be more water-efficient.
Although automatic systems are great they are not always ideal, if you have a hose laying across your lawn it will damage your lawn. Maybe you have puppies that will chew up any exposed hoses. I have hand watered with a hose or bucket for years because it forces me to check on my garden. I wouldn’t be able to catch the inevitable weeds when they were small and easily pullable.
Also, make sure you plan your garden beds or containers to be close enough that you can water. Even if you are putting your garden on an automatic system you will want it close enough that you can add extra water as needed.
The last decision to make is if you are going to start from seeds or starters. I have a video on my youtube channel about the difference between the two. There are pros and cons to both and definitely, some plants are better to start from seed, and some are better to use as starters. You just need to know which you are going to use.
Second . . . What are your goals?
Do you want to grow X amount of your own food? Do you want to have Y plants survive to harvest? Do you want to spend (insert time here) outside each day? All of these and many more are great goals to have for your garden. In my first year gardening in our first home, I set a time goal and not a harvest goal. Why? Because it wasn’t so much about food that the first year but about learning what to do and what not to do, I had newborn twins so I knew I had bigger priorities but I didn’t want to give up on my garden.
Whatever your goal is, make sure it is reasonable. It doesn’t need to be big and spectacular, and I urge, especially if you are new to gardening, start slow so you can grow.
Especially, write those goals down someplace. If you don’t know where to write them down . . . I encourage you to join our Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/443489996796100
Third . . . Know your budget
Why is this important? Gardening can be expensive, but it doesn’t need to be. There are some “set” costs. You will need seeds or starts. You will need a soil amendment of some sort. You will need water and fertilizer. The other needed items you can flex pretty easily. What are you going to garden in? Pallets are free in most places and can be used in so many ways for gardening. Or you can get fancy and buy pre-made beds. Watering as we said above could be done with a hose, or you could spend extra and put in an automatic system.
It does not matter what your budget is, but you should know what it is. For our family, we go a little cheaper on the bed materials because we know we need to add soil and lots of soil amendment each year because our soil is so poor. We also had to start over last year because we moved, so our budget for this year is different from last year and is drastically different from the year before.
In my first year of gardening, I had the goal of staying under $100. Between reusing materials and taking advantage of the Facebook marketplace I was only $20 over budget by the end of that first season. To be honest, I did not include the increase in our water bill in that budget, but remember, my goal for that first year was based on time, not on the harvest amount. I did get a pretty decent harvest that year, for the record. Gardening can be done on a small budget, but looking back on that year, doubling, if not tripling, that budget would have definitely been easier.
Fourth . . . Now your Timeline
What do I mean by this? There is a difference between cool-season crops (typically starting in March) and warm-season crops (typically starting May). This goes back a little back to “are going starting with seeds or starts” in that if you start from seeds you may need to start some plants inside and then move them out. When will you need to fertilize? Depending on what you planted, this could be once a week, this could be every time you water. Make sure you know and can plan for it. For example, tomatoes notoriously want extra fertilizers and treatments in the western states because they are prone to blossom end rot. Another example is squash, if you overwater or over-fertilize squash you could not only get an out of control plant but your squash is also prone to powdery mildew.
Also, you will want to know when you can or should harvest your bounty. Some spinach or lettuce varieties only take 40-50 days till you can harvest! But then again melons can take upwards of 100 days. Knowing your harvest timeline will also tell you when you need to plant. Melons for example are hard in Colorado’s higher altitude because we run out of warm days.
Also, don’t forget to check with your local garden center to know when their seeds and starts are arriving so that you can actually get what you want. Garden centers, although they do their best, do run out of gardening essentials. So know your timeline and have a plan.
Last . . . Have a plan
I know this is a lot, but believe me, it is so worth it! You have made your decision to garden, you have set your goals, you know your budget, and you have your timeline. You are almost ready. . . . What is left?
Putting it all together.
That’s it . . . by putting all of the decisions and choices together you now have your plan.
It may seem overwhelming but don’t worry, once you start writing everything down (or if you are like me drawing it), your plan will become clear. You may notice you need a little more information or you are missing something but you know what? You have written/drawn your plan so you can easily fill in anything that is missing.
But don’t worry, gardening is not about knowing all of the answers when you start. I will always stand by gardening as a “learn as you go” hobby. My garden changes every year just like my goals change every year. So if I can leave you with anything it is this . . . .
JUST GET STARTED!
-Chelsa, owner/designer of CS Apex Landscape Design