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Starting a Garden
A lot of people are intimidated by starting their first garden. What stops them is the idea of maintenance. And being uncertain of what and when to plant for their specific location. But with a little research and a really good method (BTE), it really isn’t as difficult as you think. My tips can have you ready for planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall with very little effort.
I was one of those people that loved the idea of a garden but didn’t like the idea of all that weeding. And what could I even grow here in the Pacific Northwest? Not to mention I had no idea when to start seedlings, or when to direct sow. Homesteading may have been in my blood, but the knowledge and experience had skipped a few generations.
Planning Your Crops
The first step to starting a garden is deciding what you want to grow. I usually start a list of all the different types of produce I like and would rather grow than buy from the store.
It’s a really good idea once you have a wish list to draw up a plan of your garden and then write where each crop will fit. The backs of your seed packets or tag in a seedling give you optimal planting distance information. You should also find out which plants like each other and which plants don’t play well together. This is known as companion planting. It’s not as important when you use the BTE garden method. But I still like to err on the side of caution.
Direct Sow or Seedling?
Deciding to start your plants from seed or planting seedlings depends on your location (growing season length), how fragile the plant is, and what type of plants you want to grow.
Plants that take longer to grow or require warmer soil temperatures should be started indoors from seed. This is where you should read the back of the seed pack to get an idea for your area of what your best option is. You can usually find this information in the descriptions of your seed catalogs as well. Most plants do well if started indoors 6 weeks before the last frost in your area. But again it’s good to check the back of the seed pack. If you’re unsure of what to plant when; this website is a great resource.
Choosing Seeds for Starting Your Garden
Winter is the time of year gardeners order seed catalogs and begin the first stages of planning for a spring garden. Many websites offer these catalogs for free. Choosing who to buy your seed through really depends on what you are looking for in your plants. Last year we chose to go through SeedsNow at the recommendation from a homesteader friend. We really liked their prices and the fact that they have great heirloom non-GMO varieties! Check out their 99 cent sampler packs (the perfect amount of seeds for a small garden)!
One of my new favorite places to buy heirloom seed is Trueleaf Market. They have an amazing variety and many of my homesteader friends absolutely swear by them.
I chose to go through Southern Seed Exchange this year because of the amazing variety of herbs and plants they have that are well suited to our location. They have seeds that are suitable for northern climates as well. My order was shipped quickly and their packaging was so cute. I purchased dried herbs from them as well! One of the added bonuses is they are a veteran-owned company that sells 100% American-sourced products.
What You Should Consider When Buying Your Garden Seeds
- Organic: This is really a matter of preference. I personally think it’s more important to buy non-gmo and heirloom seed.
- Non-GMO: For me the reason I choose to buy non-gmo seed is that I want to make sure my produce is as close to natural as possible. What I mean by that is that I want there to be little difference between what I grow and what can be found in the wild.
- Heirloom vs. Hybrid vs. Open-pollinated: This is extremely important to know if you plan on seed-saving. Which I cannot advocate for enough. With the way things have been the last few years, seed-saving should be something you are absolutely learning to do. Many found it difficult if not impossible to find seed in 2020, so if you don’t want to fall prey to market availability buying heirloom seeds should be a no-brainer. This article I found explains the difference between heirloom and hybrid seeds.
- Variety: This is more personal preference. You may choose certain varieties for you specific location or because you want to use the produce for difference things. ie: tomatoes for sauce vs. eating tomatoes
- Ability to preserve: Some varieties of fruits and vegetables preserve better. One variety that is good for eating raw may not can well.
- Is it something your family likes: It’s always a good idea to grow things you know your family enjoys because it’s just a waste of you time and garden space if you grow something your family won’t even enjoy.
Prep Your Garden Beds in The Winter
If you haven’t already, you should prepare an area in your yard for planting. Ideally, you would have had your area designated in the fall. Especially if you were doing the BTE method. The BTE or Back to Eden Method of gardening was what Aaron and I switched our gardens over to in 2018.
Remove any debris or weeds from your garden area. Now would be the time to add any compost or other supplements to balance the Ph, although BTE does this naturally over a few years, (by the time you plant in the spring this should have sufficiently worked itself into the soil).
If you want to learn more about this low work, high yield method check out my post about how BTE saved our garden.
Spring Garden Planting
Early spring is when your indoor seed starts should be just about big enough to transplant into your garden. And the nurseries, hardware, and many other stores will start putting out their plants. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, besides Christmas. It’s the promise of more sunshine and warmer weather to come.
Before transplanting your seedlings you need to harden them off. This means every day for 7 to 10 days you take your plants outdoors on mild days for a couple of hours. Try to make sure they are sheltered from any wind. After 10 days, they should be ready to plant.
If doing the BTE method, push back your chips in rows for planting, make a very shallow trench in the dirt, and place seeds or seedlings in the trench (once the plants are big enough you will move the chips back around them). Place any tomato rings, set up trellises (for climbing plants), and lay down soaker hoses.
Maintenance of Your Garden
From here on out it’s all about maintenance. Depending on your method you might need to weed once a week. Always make sure, until your seedlings are strong, that you keep the ground moist. Deep watering is always better than watering the surface once a day. That’s why I recommend a drip hose. You want to avoid watering directly on your plants as this can promote disease and possible damage from the sun. I generally water about once every other day depending on if we have had rain.
Keep an eye on your plants to make sure that they aren’t showing signs of disease or infestation. It’s always best to catch these problems in their early stages so they can be corrected. If you do notice you are having issues, try to find the source of the problem. You could test your soil to ensure your plants are getting the proper minerals. Next search for signs of pests. And lastly, you may have to narrow it down to disease. Once you think you know what the problem might be, you can usually figure out how to treat it.
The Reason for Starting a Spring Garden
Late summer/early fall is when you will begin to see the fruits of your labor. This is when the bulk of your crops will be harvested. As you harvest each plant it’s a good idea to remove any dead material so that you aren’t promoting disease in the garden.
There are many reasons people start gardens and there are many reasons people are afraid to start gardens. I believe with a little research and a small amount of work anyone can have an easy-to-maintain garden throughout the year.
All that is left to do now is to preserve and enjoy your harvest. Happy gardening!