Now is prime time for garden planning and seed buying. If you haven’t planted a vegetable garden before, start out this year with plan so you get as close as you can get to a guaranteed success.
Follow these simple steps, and be prepared to learn from your experience.
Choose Seeds Carefully
You don’t necessarily want to choose seeds first, but I want to start with a word of caution about seeds. If your goal is a natural garden, consider avoiding genetically modified seeds and plants. Go further than that, though. Buy your seeds from people who really care about long-term food security. If you want to avoid patent bully Monsanto and you are looking for non-genetically-modified seeds, shop with seed companies that have taken the Safe Seeds pledge. (Scroooooll for Canada.) If you might buy seedlings, print this list to be sure that you avoid Monsato varieties in plants as well.
Don’t Fight Your Climate
As you are dreaming of your ideal garden, be realistic about where you live. Choose native and heirloom plants that grow in your climate, and you are more likely to have a successful harvest. If you have a local community garden organization or a plant center that is conscientious about stocking only non-GM plants, find out from locals what works in your area.
Check the plant hardiness zone map for Canada or the U.S., and don’t try to grow orange trees in northern Ontario unless you have a greenhouse. (My father-in-law keeps a greenhouse just so he can grow oranges and other tropical plants in cold, rainy Britain. If that’s your dream, it is possible.)
Plant Compatible Companions
Not all vegetables grow well next to all others, and some vegetables work very well together. Corn, beans, and squash grown together give shade to the squash and a pole for the beans to climb up. These are long-time North American companions. Just choose plants that won’t compete for sunlight and won’t attract insects that will nibble their neighbors.
Map Out Your Garden Plan
When you are ready for a plan, you could just start with someone else’s plan and follow their directions. That’s an easy way to plant your first garden without too much stress, as long as the plants are appropriate to your area. You can download a plan from Better Homes and Gardens or get the plan and a complete supply kit from Gardener’s Supply Company.
If you want to create a themed garden, start with a list of plants. Do you, for example, want to grow a bowl of salsa or grow an edible flower salad to delight a child? Focusing on a clear outcome like a specific meal is a great way to keep a very young child interested in the garden.
If you want to customize your plan, try online garden planning programs. Gardener’s has a simple drag-and-drop map you can arrange then print. Through Mother Earth News, you can try the GrowVeg.com planner free for 30 days. Once you start playing with the software, you may not want to stop. The program creates a plant list and planting schedule.
Or, as you become more expert in gardening, you can go old school and draw out your own garden plan your own way.
Find out the anticipated dates of last spring frost for Canada or the U.S. in the Old Farmer’s Almanac (a book you might want to have around as you become a real gardener). Determine the ideal time for planting each of your planned plants, and work backward to figure out when you should start your seeds. Create a schedule, and refer to this schedule throughout the spring. If you use the GrowVeg.com planner, your schedule is created for you.
Now Buy Your Seeds
By now, you probably just want to get planting. Buy your seeds or plants, and you will be planting soon. In Simcoe County, Ontario, they tell us to place our plant order by April 1st, so you do have a couple of weeks to plan and dream.
Record Your Plan
Get a gardener’s notebook then record everything from your map (which you can print and tip into your book) to your shopping list and seed suppliers and your planting notes. Keep track of what you do. If it works, you want to repeat your success. If it doesn’t work, you need to remember what you did so you can do something different next year. This is an adventure. Record the story of your journey as you become a vegetable gardener.