*A guest post by Jessica Smith of The Earthen Floor
When we think of the joy of gardening our mind almost always jumps to that time in early summer where you are picking your first early harvest. Walking between the rows you see the hard work all spring finally paying off. Perhaps the lettuce and spinach are ready for a salad, perhaps you're pulling the first radishes from the ground or grabbing a few leaves of mint. Elsewhere, the once tiny seedlings are growing stronger, settling in for their longer growing season.
But before all of that is my 2nd favorite time of gardening. The time where the busy garden beds are resting under a thick blanket of snow. When mother nature reminds us that everyone needs time to rest, to step back, to reorganize before bursting forward again in the spring. January is full of hope and magic. Now it the time, as the snow falls outside the windows, that I curl up with a cup of warm tea, a notebook, and my seed catalogs and dream of warmer days.
This is our 3rd gardening year at our new home. Every year has been a bit different. Our first year, gardening was an after thought. We just jumped in head first with no plan, it had some wins and some fails but it was wonderful. The 2nd year I organized everything with a military like precision. Charts and plans, seed planting schedules determined by week. Gardens are a lot like kids, plan all you want but someone is still going to decide to not sleep at the exact same time the other one decides to learn to climb. All the planning in the world goes out the window.
This year I'm focusing on simple intuitive gardening. No big plans, just an idea and I'll see where life takes me. Gardening dosen't have to be complicated and I'm going to share a few tips on how to make it easier.
Don't over do it, especially the first year. Start slow and build. Remember that's great if you grow 20 zucchini plants but you better have a plan for what to do with the harvest or you will be peddling them at preschool drop off while your kids complain they are tired of zoodles for dinner. Our first year especially we focused on starting some things like berry bushes and herbs. Each year we add a bit more. We stagger plantings so we get a more continuous crop rather than a big pile all at once. We focus not only on what we will.actually eat but also what gives us the biggest value. Salad greens are quick to grow and take up very little space. Cabbages take up a lot of space and take all season to grow. We grew a few cabbages for the fun of it but that's not were we devote most of our resources, I can grab a cheap cabbage at the farmers market when i need one.
Don't fight mother nature.
Learn what works for your area. Look up your grow zone and try to find plants that naturally grow well. If you live where it freezes you're going to have a hard time growing a lemon tree. Sure you might be able to but you will always be fighting nature. I also find the more tried and true older varieties and heirlooms often do better than some of the new speciality varieties. Get to know your yard. Where is the sun? where are the soft wet spots? Where are the kids always trampling? Find a way to be in harmony with the space and gardening will come easier.
Get a good set up.
This doesn't have to be big or elaborate or expensive. We have 2 raised beds, some containers, and fabric grow bag. Use good soil and good seeds. Keep the predators out. Its really quite simple. Good soil holds moisture so you don't have to constantly water. A good set up can reduce weeds and make the garden easy to care for. A little extra prep in the beginning can make the season a lot easier. Oh, make sure your hose can reach the gardens. Put the gardens where you can see them easily. Where it is in your natural space. Ours are right on the way to the back yard play areas so I can work in the garden and the kids can play. If your garden is too out of the way you aren't going to find yourself wandering through it as often.
Use a method that works for you!
There isn't a right or wrong way to garden it depends on your lifestyle. As long as it produces some good results it's fine. We personally do mostly square foot gardening and do winter sowing in milk jugs to start our seedlings. I find this combo gives us an easy to manage garden that requires a reasonable amount of maintenance.
Square foot gardening makes things organized and you get minimal weeds. Thinking about things in terms of the squares helps a lot with the scope. For example I did a row of 4 squares with lettuce in them. Once those seedlings popped up and planted another row. This maintained a great continuous crop of salad greens all season long. The entire method just keeps things simple and manageable.
The winter sowing means I don't have to have tons of seedlings indoors where my feral children will try to "help" care for them and they won't die when I forget to check on them frequently. You recycle old plastic milk/juice and food containers and use them as mini greenhouses outside. You don't have to worry about carefully hardening off your seedlings (basically slowly acclimating them to the outside). I'll explain more about this in the next post because it was a game changer for my gardening but you can also check out the juicing gardener link below.
Get the kids involved
This has to be one of my favorite parts of gardening. Whether it's the little ones watching the leaves climbing the bean poles from the safety of a ring sling or the older kids helping harvest and trying new foods they grew themselves getting the kids involved has always made great memories. My oldest is especially hesitant to try new foods but last year he was pulling leaves off the mint plant and asking if he could try them. Gardening teaches them so much in such a natural way and they can learn the satisfaction of seeing their work pay off.
Remember there are no mistakes
Last year the weather was really rough. Lots of gardeners struggles. Did my garden grow as well as I would have hoped? Nope. But it did do better than the year before and I learned A LOT about what I wanted to do this year. Gardening is about adapting and learning. Seasons change, life changes. It's a constant lesson in adaptation. But the rewards are amazing. Last summer every evening we would sit outside, watch the kids play in the yard and snack on some freshly picked strawberries. It was such a simple pleasure but it really just made the evenings seem so wonderful. It reminded me of the life I wanted to be creating for my kids, the skills I wanted to pass on to them, the joy I wanted them to find in watching mother nature do her thing and maybe helping her along a little.
Baker seed company (so many cool unique plants. The king tut peas and pink celery are a favorite here)
Gurneys (I love them for plants especially. They have a great guarantee)
Pine tree seed company (Kailyn's favorite)
Seed saver exchange (haven't personally tried but love the concept and I have heard good things.)
Stay tuned for future post and make sure to head on over to Naturally Chatty to join our garden chat threads.
The Juicing Gardener on Youtube