There might be snow or ice on the ground where you live, but it’s already time for some spring garden prep. Here are a few productive ways to get started:
Decide What to Grow
Think about what you buy most frequently from the grocery store and grow that this year! Even better, think about what you want to preserve this summer and fall and plant those berries, fruits or veggies.
If you are new to gardening, pick common vegetable varieties that are tried and true in your region, like Blue Lake pole beans, Buttercrunch lettuce and Early Girl tomatoes. Oregon State University’s Extension Services has a great list available online here.
If you are seasoned homesteader, take a look back at your garden journal to see which varieties performed best for you last year. Then grab a cup of tea, curl up with your favorite seed catalog and pick out some new ones to try.
The majority of my vegetable plot is filled with my favorite performers, but I usually leave about 20% of the garden free to experiment with new, unusual varieties. That way you get some exciting varieties to try while still banking on a productive harvest.
Have you considered growing your vegetables from seed this year? You’ll have the widest range of vegetable varieties to choose from – far more than just what’s on the plant nursery shelf. Longterm, it will be much more economical that buying starts. However, to get started, you do need to invest in some basic equipment.
You’ll need a grow light set on a timer to ensure your seedlings get enough faux sunlight to trick them into growing big and strong. A windowsill won’t cut it. They won’t get enough sunlight – remember they need more than what nature can offer at this time of year – and the draft from the window might just kill them. A warming tray placed under your seed trays will further boost germination and growth, but it’s not necessary to successfully grow from seed.
Get your seed order in early with a respected seed source, as supplies can be limited. I prefer to order from seed companies not owned by Monsanto that are committed to growing non GMO seed. This is one of those opportunities for you to put your money where your beliefs are. Some of my go-to seed companies are Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Territorial Seed Company and the Seed Savers Exchange.
It’s cold and dreary outside, but get out there anyway and work off the holiday fluff. Turning the compost pile now will re-energize the micro-organisms inside, helping the pile break down even faster. With luck, you’ll have some fully composted “black gold” to spread on your garden beds come spring planting time.
Our chickens have been enjoying lots of sunny, but chilly days free-ranging in the backyard. While they are out pecking around, it’s really easy to pop into their coop for a deep clean. In addition to removing all bedding, twice a year we mop the coop walls, floor and nesting boxes with diluted vinegar. We thoroughly clean their food and water dishes, which get muddy over time. After the coop dries out fully, fresh bedding goes in just around the time they come home to roost for the evening.
Spray Fruit Trees
Instead of spraying all your fruit trees every year, first choose disease-resistant varieties to ensure success with your home orchard. That said, even the most savvy homesteader will still run into problems sooner or later. In our case, we have a beloved Puget Gold apricot tree with blight. A sunny winter day is the best time to treat it with an organic copper spray. Your local nursery can give you specific advice on which product to spray when, but OSU also has a great online article to help out.
The best time of year to plant new trees is in the fall, while the ground is still workable and light rains combined with mild temperatures will help get your trees established. The second best time is late winter, before the trees wake up from dormancy. They will still benefit from cool temperatures and mother nature will water them so you don’t have to.
My favorite local source for ordering edible plants is through One Green World. They have an excellent mix of old favorites and new, unusual edibles. Check out their 2015 catalog now to get your order in early.