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You may want to sit down for this… March 1st is only 3 days away! I have no clue where the time goes anymore, but I am realizing that months are now only a week long.
It’s officially time to start getting ready for your garden! I know for most of the south that we are still having some cold snaps, but I’m serious here. There are a number of things you can get started doing now that will make your garden weeks ahead when the temperatures warm up. The faster you can get the garden going, the faster you get to enjoy the rewards!
Make a Plan
This will be our 10th year having a family garden and every year we tackle a few different vegetables and add a few more rows. This year we are going back a bit to make things more doable on a busy schedule. For most of us an 8 ft x 8ft bed will provide plenty of vegetables for a family. So don’t use the size of your yard as a reason to not garden. Now is the time to plan how large you want go, what area of the yard is the best for sunlight and even what you want to plant. Without a plan, the next few steps won’t work, so get out some paper and pretend to be your grandfather for a minute (mine always had a small pad planning out next years garden while in the middle of this years crop).
Things to plan and even research now:
Type (raised bed, traditional, containers etc.)
What you want to plant
Ways to be more organic (if that matters to you)
Prepare the Soil
While we can’t put in any plants in until after the last frost (generally April 1st in the south), you can do all of your soil prep. This way when April comes you aren’t spending the first week weeding and tilling, you are planting! Go ahead now and pull any weeds that in the space you plan to use. If you used this space last year and still have old crops there, they can stay. Just pull weeds for now. Once you have every last pesky weed out, go ahead and till or turn the ground up with a shovel. You can till in the old crops and let them compost down for the next month in the soil. This adds extra nutrients to the soil. Don’t till in weeds! You will regret that just a few weeks later.
Based on what you decided to plant, go ahead and research and add in any soil amendments you want. That would be the stuff we add to our soil to make it better happier dirt. Your local extension office can be a great help here. Most extension offices will do soil sample tests for you and give you very specific things to add. If you notice that you already have bugs and slugs in your dirt as you turn up the soil, share that with the extension office too. They will know organic and traditional ways to get rid of any garden pests!
One last note here. I know it’s 35 degrees outside in South Carolina and going outside isn’t high on your list, but weeding in wet soil after rain is much easier that super dry hard soil. It really is a great time to be knee deep in your soggy garden.
I’m serious. Just don’t start planting outside. If the goal of your garden is like mine, to save money, you don’t want to waste large sums buying nursery sprouted tomato plants. Most will run at least $3 per plant and the bill adds up very quick. You have windows in your house I hope… those are built in tiny greenhouses perfect for sprouting all your garden plants. You can go crazy and buy a sprout kit, but that again would be money spent. The only thing you need to actually pay for is the seeds, and that should be around $1.
So go back to kindergarten and grab some egg cartons. They are actually the perfect size to fit in a windowsill. We can fit 2-3 cartons in each windowsill at our house and with 12 spots per carton that’s 36 plants and only one window! You can use soil straight from your garden to start them or buy a bag of potting soil for $3. Plant 1 seed per spot. If it doesn’t come up you can always plant another seed in that spot in a few days, so need to worry about having to separate them later. One extra tip, save the top of the egg carton to go underneath. This gives you extra moisture protection in case something leaks.
Once the seeds sprout turn your egg carton 180 degrees every 1-2 days to keep the plants growing straight (they will bend towards the light naturally). After 2-3 weeks your plants may need to be moved to larger containers. If that happens save used yogurt containers or even use plastic bathroom cups to give them more soil and room to grow. For most of us though we’ll only have another 2 weeks before they can go outside.
Personal Tip: This is a great way to get your kids involved! They can do all of this part themselves with maybe a little reminding from you to water them. We use a turkey baster to let them water without making a mess.
To give you a bigger reason to start your own seeds…
For 36 plants:
Store bought at average $3 per plant: $108
Home grown, buying seeds and potting soil: $4
Plus you have to admit that watching a seed sprout never gets old. You’ll feel like a 4 year old all over again enjoying how much they grew each day.
Plants that are good to start indoors in March:
The deeper south you live, the less you need to start indoors. Remember though these plants can’t go outside until soil temps are above 45-50 degrees. So for some areas this will be well past April 1st. Most other garden plants not listed above are better planted directly from seed outside once temperatures are warm enough.
Do you have any other tips that folks should start doing now to prepare for their garden?