High Grocery Prices? Now Is the Time to Plan Your Garden

John M. Dabbs

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Work now to reap the rewards this summer.Lewis Wilson/Unsplash

This is the time to sit down and plan for your garden. The cold January weather is the perfect time to plan for spring and summer. You should begin preparations now, whether you're an accomplished gardener or you are taking your first steps as a gardener. It's time.

Working out

I used to spend a lot of time thinking about gardening and making different plans. Here I'll share some of my Appalachian-American wisdom, gathered from my personal experiences and lessons taught to me by my parents and grandparents. I'll also include my advice for layouts and planting, in addition to other considerations to ponder for January.

First things first

I suggest you not get too carried away in buying seeds of different varieties at this point. You'll need to figure out what works in this part of the country first. You need to know what works where you live and understand things about where on your property you'll be growing your garden before "digging in."

You'd think it's obvious, but it's important to think about your basic environment. You'll need to discern your "zone" for planting times, and whether or not your elevation requires you to consider yourself in a lower numbered zone or not. You'll also need to know how the sunlight moves across your property, and how the shade from foliage and buildings cover your property throughout the year. Drainage is also important. Is the area you'll be planting normally dry or soggy? Does it get a lot of wind, or is it sheltered by foliage, ground, or buildings? You'll also want to know the pH of the soil, and if you need to add amendments to the soil for better growing.

Winter

It might be cold outside, and you'll likely not spend as much time outside, but you'll need to spend some time in your garden area. Make note of your findings and observations. It will help you make the right choices down the road.

You'll need to decide on the type of gardening you will be doing. Think about whether you'll want to plant in the ground, in containers, or a combination. Also think about whether this will be a garden where you'll be producing annual or perinnial crops, or a combination of the two.

Don't get bogged down in the shape too much. If you're planning on a garden where you'll use a rototiller to work the ground, you'll likely want a rectangular shape to reduce the number of turns you'll need to make. If working it by hand, you can go for squares. When raising a smaller garden, I usually opt for raised beds - and use the square foot gardening method.

Annual

This is the most common gardening for backyard gardens. Normally it has a range of common fuits and vegetables planted in the ground or in raised beds. I recommend a no-dig approach if you stick to an annual garden. is the most typical and familiar type of gardening for most. It involves growing a range of common annual fruits and vegetables, usually in the ground or in raised beds.

Perennial

Perennial gardening is unfamiliar to most gardeners, yet it's the most eco-friendly and sustainable method and is pretty easy. There are many edible perennials to grow besides fruit trees and shrubs. There are also perennial onions and cabbages. If you've only grown annual grops in your life, this may be a fun experiment for your that could lead to a new world of opportunity for you.

Containers

Those with limited space often choose container gardening. Many don't consider their options, or are unaware of them. Think outside of the box, and look into vertical gardening, hydroponics, square-foot gardening, and other ways to maximize your area. Consider your options and your space before delving too far in the planning process.

Size matters

Think about your own abilities, time, and goals when planning your garden. You need to think realistically about how much time you'll have to care for your plants, and the space. What are your goals, possible pests (rodents, insects, other wildlife). You might need a fence or other means to protect your crops. All of these things need to be considered. Don't forget you'll need an easily accessible water source. The larger the garden, the more important access becomes. You may need a water hose instead of just a watering can.

If this is your first garden, keep your ambition in check. It can easily get out of hand and require you to put in much more time and energy to maintain it than you can allow. This can cause the garden to get overgrown, or the crops to be neglected. It really effects your self-esteem when this happens. We don't want that. If you have children or other family members who want to help, that's a good thing. Let them.

Nutrients

Think about the nutrient requirements for your garden, and how you'll return these to the soil so your plants will thrive. You may want to start a compost pile (away from the house), use worms or worm-castings, or commercial fertilizer. Which ever you choose, you'll need to develop your system in how you'll be incorporating these into your soil before and after each planting.

Developing a surplus of compost or natural fertilizers (think horse manure), may be the solution for you. The important think is to establish a routine for incorporating it into the soil on a regular basis.

Planting Plans

This has always been the fun part for me. Draw the areas of your garden and rough out your initial planting scheme. Choose plants suited to the area that you and your family like to eat. Remember this is only a starting point. Be flexible and ready to change things up over time.

Deversify your plants. Integrate different types of plants which can compliment each other's growth. These tactics are sometimes called companion planting. You'll often see watermelon or beans planted with corn, or onions and garlic planted near tomatoes to help keep pests away.

Don't be afraid to experiment and get creative in your plantings. You can find many guides for companion planting, along with planting times to harvesting in many seed catalogs.

Long term plans

Once you've roughed out your plans, don't stop. It's a good time to develop long-term plans. Think about succession planting in your beds of annual plants. Rotating crops can actually help use the nutrients in the soil more efficiently, as some actually return nutrients to the ground.

What about your perennials? Think about how you'll change things up with these ongoing varieties over time.

Most people regard garden planning as the decisions made on which seeds and plants you'll use. This is only a small portion of the process. After you've worked all of these steps out and discovered if you'll want to conduct a soil sample test to determine what nutrients or additives your soil requires, you may want to venture further.

Consider the asthetics of your garden as it grows and blooms. The shapes, colors, and textures can make it a fantastic work of art. You have much to ponder during these times while the air and ground are cold. Will you be putting out snow-peas in February? Perhapes you'll plant a fall-crop in 2022, with plants becoming hardy and wintering over.

Maybe you'll find a new use for those old tires or barrels and grow stawberries or potatoes in them... You have many options. Use this time wisely.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Bristol, TN
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