How to prep for your garden
Are you ready to start your garden?! The decision to start your fruit and vegetable garden is a HUGE decision. Now that you’ve made that decision ask yourself why did you decide to. If you’re like me, the thought of growing your own food will give you some sense of security. We don’t know what can happen and just know it’s okay if this is your reason. I’ve heard it before “you’re some kind of prepper huh?” And “where is your bunker?”.
Nothing against preppers but I don’t think of myself as one. I just look at it as another layer of security. As a mother of two young children and a caretaker to my grandmother, I viewed this as important. It makes me feel good that I have learned and am still learning, how to grow food. It dawned on me before this journey that as a family we would be completely dependent on others if we found ourselves in a real pickle and couldn’t find work. With all of that being said, thank you for joining me on this journey!
Now down to the nitty gritty…
When planning a garden, the first step is to locate an area that you would like to turn into your garden. Once you’ve selected the spot, ask yourself these questions:
- What are your fall and spring frost dates?
- What plant hardiness zone do you live in?
- How much sun does this spot get?
- Which direction is this spot facing?
- What planting season is it?
- How much space do you have to garden?
Understanding this will make mapping your garden out easier.
To garden, you must know your frost dates. I live in Central Florida so that is what I will look up. On the farmer’s almanac, google, or any search engine, you can search for the frost dates for your area. For example, my last spring frost date is January 29th and my first fall frost date is January 4th (dates are estimated based on historical data). That gives me 341+ of freeze free days!
Next, what is your plant hardiness zone? You can find out what your plant hardiness zone is by going onto the farmer’s almanac website and searching your address. What is a plant hardiness zone? There is a plant hardiness map used by many gardeners. The map helps them determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location.
Let me give you an example, I live in central Florida, and my hardiness zone is 9b. It gets very hot and humid here, especially in the summertime. There are still things that I can grow in the summertime but I would have to gear more toward tropical fruits or heat tolerate vegetables. For instance, okra has no issues growing in our Florida summers and loves the heat. Also, our winters are not as cold as the winters up north so there are some plants that northern gardeners can grow I wouldn’t even think of growing down here. I know when I first began I wanted to grow everything and trust me I tried, hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes and grow according to your hardiness zone.
Next, how much sun does the area get? Look into if your garden area is shaded by trees or blocked by buildings.
Once you have established that, you need to determine which direction your garden is facing. I’ll give an example, my garden is in my backyard which faces the west and gets a lot of afternoon sun. From what I’ve learned, the sun’s rays are the harshest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Before I learned this, I didn’t understand why my plants were dying (not the only reason). My initial thought was… “What in the world is wrong? They are getting sunlight and water!”. I can definitely say I was a little “green” hehehe. I didn’t realize that I should have utilized shade cloth when temperatures hit above 95 degrees.
Onto the next step, which is knowing what planting season you’re in. You will want to plant certain crops during certain months. For example, it’s not very smart for me to grow lettuce or cabbage in the summertime because it will be too hot and the heat will kill the plants. But one thing I could grow in the heat is sweet potatoes they love the heat and thrive in our summers.
Another thing that I realized is that you can also look to see how many days are in your growing season according to your location. Here in Florida our growing season is 300+ days a year because of our weather. With our growing season being so long even in our winters we do not have to worry about the harsh cold weather killing our crops. I’m also learning that you can get around your weather by having grow lights, as long as you can regulate the temperature of your plants and keep them underneath grow lights you can grow just about anything.
The last thing you want to find out is how much space you have to garden. Do you have a yard? Do you have a patio? Do you have a balcony? Is your growing space tiny? This is near and dear to me because I do not grow any crops in the ground I grow everything in containers! I do have a yard however unfortunately if you are familiar with HOAs then you understand that they are very strict with their rules concerning your yard. So in my case, I do everything in containers to avoid any future problems. I also grow things vertically, this will save you a lot of space if you decide to grow vining plants like cucumbers or peas. Also, there are different varieties of these vining plants that will grow in a bush form. The bush varieties do not take up much room at all. Because my space is limited I do prefer a lot of the bush varieties.
On almost every seed packet on the back, there is a map that shows the zones. You look for your state and normally it is color-coded and it will show you the hardiness zones. It will also list the months that you should start the seeds and some even show you how deep you should plant them. Also on the packet, you will see if this variety is a bush variety or a vining variety. I understand non-GMO is important so it will list if the seed is non-GMO or heirloom seeds. I like using heirloom and non-GMO seeds. If you don’t know what GMO stands for it means genetically modified. I am growing the food to also save seeds and I noticed that if it was genetically modified food, the seeds that you save won’t produce and also if you use hybrid seeds when you go to plant seeds you saved from that crop it will give you something that doesn’t resemble the original fruit at all. So I stick with the non-GMO and heirloom because I know I want to eventually save my seeds for the next season. Also, it’s pretty fun to trade seeds with your friends.
You are almost there, you are in the home stretch! I know this is a lot of information and you are eager to get started but you must understand all of this before you start. I didn’t take the time to learn and because of that, I had a lot of setbacks. At one point, I began to become discouraged. My frustration was getting the best of me because I didn’t know why my plants were dying. I know that might sound silly to some people and that common sense says to plant crops for your zone and within a certain time to guarantee a harvest. Ha ha, I was flying by the seat of my pants! I was so eager to learn that my impatience got the best of me. But, I’m glad it happened that way in the end because it gave me a newfound respect for gardeners and farmers. Gardening is truly a CRAFT! I have listed a link below that I found useful when I started this journey. Happy gardening and I am excited to take this journey with you!