“A garden is half-made when it is well planned. The best gardener is the one who does the most gardening by the winter fire.” -Liberty Hyde Bailey
It may be hard to imagine your future garden as you look out the window and see endless piles of dirty slush, but March is the best time to plan out your garden and start seeds. Maybe it will help you if we paint you a picture. Look out your window, and instead of seeing bare branches and muddy snow, imagine bright green buds on the trees and songbirds trilling happily. Now, imagine your vegetable garden.
Is it a sprawling affair, like a miniature farm in your backyard, with plowed rows? Is it a cottage-style herb garden with a few vegetables here and there, fragrant and floral? Maybe it’s just a few sunny pots of tomatoes and peppers on your patio. Perhaps it’s an efficient high-density raised garden, where every vegetable gets a square foot to grow and produce pounds and pounds of food. There is no wrong answer. Every garden is good.
Now’s the time to grab a pad of paper and draw out your ideal garden plan. Don’t worry if your garden never turns out like the plan. (If ours did, it would be a mess of scribbles and codes.) If you are considering the square foot method, Gardener’s Supply has a great tool on their website for planning a square foot vegetable garden. It even tells you how many plants to put in each section, and, in their pre-planned gardens, you can even see what kinds of supports you will need.
As you plan, make a list of the kinds of plants you would like to grow. Then check seed-selling websites like Burpee, Park seeds or Gurney’s, or you could drop into a brick-and-mortar hardware or garden store for seeds and seed-starting trays.
Of course, you could wait until spring and buy seedlings, but that costs more money, and seed-starting gives you a jump start on the growing season. Now is also a good time to get compost going if you don’t have a compost pit already underway (and if you’re not completely snowed under.) Of course, you could forego compost completely, but we recommend you do not. After all, compost reduces your food waste into rich soil, allowing you to grow more fantastic vegetables.
You can choose a high-tech composter that is specially designed made from recycled plastic or metal, or a simple, homemade pit framed by scrap lumber or metal. Gardeners will swear by one method or another, but as long as you have a cool, dark place in your backyard, you can compost. You can buy a composter from several suppliers, like Gardener’s Supply, or build a square out of pallets or cinder blocks. Then start throwing in garden waste, kitchen scraps and old newspapers, close up your composter, or cover your compost pit (plastic or treated canvas tarps work best), and wait for your gardener’s gold to develop.
Believe it or not, now is the start of the growing season. Whistling winter winds can’t get to your seedlings on a sunny table in your home (substitute a grow light if you don’t get much sun in your house). There are many seed starting trays to choose from, in different sizes, shapes and materials. We prefer the ones with the deeper wells, so the plants can grow more robust root systems. Some even come with self-watering mats, which take the guesswork out of watering sensitive seedlings. As time goes by, you will need larger transplant pots to put your healthiest seedlings into. By the time the last frost of winter reluctantly melts away, you will have healthy young vegetable plants ready for your garden, and you’ll be that much closer to seeing results in your yard.