Tips for Getting Started with Year-Round Gardening

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As many of us grow more environmentally conscious and feel an increased concern about exposure to chemicals and toxins, one appealing option for wrestling back control over what goes into our systems is to grow our own fruits and vegetables. However, the steps involved in planting, maintaining, and harvesting a successful crop can feel daunting, especially to those of us who have had trouble keeping household plants alive in the past.

The key to overcoming this anxiety is simple: by employing a few simple techniques, planning ahead and creating a manageable chart of necessary activities, it will be easy to keep your garden blooming year-round.

Step One: Decide What to Plant and When

Because you’re going to be a year-round gardener, any time is a good time to figure out which plants to grow in the coming season. Which ones you choose will be dependent to a large extent on where you live.  Different vegetables thrive at different times of year and in different climates.  Consult your local gardening organization or gardening center for advice concerning which crops are most advisable for your particular location.

Certain hardy crops can be planted as early as February, while warm season crops should generally go into the ground after the last average frost date. By late summer, you can plant crops for your fall garden – these should go in at least two months before you expect the earliest fall frost. Certain crops like garlic and onions can be planted as late as October!  The key is to keep planting throughout the year, so that you can also harvest vegetables year-round.

Step Two: Create a Gardening Chart

Create a gardening calendar with sections for each month of the year. Here is an example of a basic planting guide that was prepared for gardeners in Central Arkansas: http://www.uaex.edu/Other_Areas/publications/PDF/FSA-6062.pdf. Another example focuses less on which vegetables to plant in which month and much more on the activities that are needed to maintain a garden: http://www.humeseeds.com/projndx.htm.

A different option is to create a chart with rows for each month and columns for different types of things to do in the garden. For example, you could have a column for planting, another for maintenance activities, and one for harvesting. This means that for April, you could look at column one to see which plants to put in the ground, column two to see how often to water or fertilize them, and column three to check on which plants should be ready to be harvested.

Step Three: Use Techniques That Enable You to Extend the Growing Season

There are many methods of extending the growing season of your garden. Three basic ones that will be discussed here are:

  • Raised bed gardening
  • Planting seeds indoors
  • Plastic-covered tunnels

Other options you might wish to explore include cloches, cold frames, underground greenhouses, and solar-charged hot water bottles.

To begin with, raised bed gardening offers several advantages. In particular, raised beds allow you to extend the gardening season because the soil will warm up earlier, meaning you can start growing crops sooner. Additionally, because the beds are raised off the ground, it is not as difficult to work on the garden in rainy weather. This type of garden also typically offers higher yields and better soil.

Raised bed gardens even require less water and generally contain fewer weeds. You can purchase or build raised beds, or even create them by shaping rectangular mounds of soil a few inches above the ground level so that they are wide enough to reach across. However, make sure to use sufficient mulch to keep the soil in place if it rains heavily.

Next, planting seeds indoors allows you to multiply the number of planting seasons available to you. Instead of winter, spring, summer, and fall, you will have early spring, mid-spring, late spring, summer, early fall, late fall, and winter. By starting the plants inside and only moving them to the garden when other plants are harvested, you can make use of more limited space. The key is having a firm plan for garden layout and crop rotation.

Finally, this technique can be supplemented by using plastic-covered tunnels for mini-greenhouses. Not only will this allow you to plant earlier in the spring, it also provides a place to harden the tender seedlings you have been growing indoors while you are waiting for space to open up in the garden. You can use fence wire to support the tunnels; another option is to use hoops cut from wood, wire, or pipe. In addition, cover the tunnels with blankets or tablecloths when it is especially cold and cut V-shaped vents in the sides in order to improve ventilation.

What vegetables would you like to grow in your garden? Have you had success with year-round gardening in the past?

Since 2000, Chris Long has been a store associate at a Home Depot in Illinois. He also contributes to the Home Depot blog, and provides raised bed garden advice as well as tips on other home landscaping topics.

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