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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Gardening 101: Spring Gardening Season Is Here!

*Part 1 of 5 of my Gardening 101 series.*


Spring is finally here, and it's time to start planning our gardens. Or planting those gardens if you are in a warmer climate! I live in southern Indiana, with my particular town lying in the US Department of Agriculture's plant hardiness zone 6a. We have cold winters and brief, hot summers, so the timing of planting my garden is crucial. Typically, my growing season is from mid April to mid October. No matter what zone you live in, to get the most out of your garden, you need to do a little planning.



Gardening 101-Pt 1: When to plant in your zone & cool vs warm weather crops. {Click to Tweet}

Below I've compiled a list of fruits and vegetables, and the best times to plant them in your garden as seeds for zone 6a. If you prefer to start them indoors, just plant the seeds in your starter pots about 6 weeks before the beginning of the time-frame outlined below, then transplant them to your garden when they are ready. There is a certain procedure to follow when doing that, and I'll discuss it in more detail in a following post.


March:

Plant cool-weather crops in March and April. Asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnips all need the chill of early spring to grow well.

It's the first day of April, so it's to late for me to start my cool weather crop seeds indoors. Instead, I'll be planting them directly into the ground this week. It is however the perfect time for me to begin planting my warm weather crop seeds in starter pots inside.


April

Plant more cool-weather crops such as celery, bush beans, pole beans, okra, and potatoes starting in mid-April on through May. These vegetables can tolerate more of the early summer's heat than the ones you planted in March.


May

You can now plant cantaloupe, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon, and zucchini. These warm-season vegetables need the long, sunny days and warmth to grow quickly enough for harvesting in August.

If you would like to extend your harvest of fresh produce, you can do a second planting of cool-weather crops. Just plant the same ones you planted in March, during the months of July and early August, for harvest from September through November.


Picking Just The Right Spot

The first step to having a successful garden is picking a good site. You want a spot that has full sun, and isn't to wet or to dry. Don't chose an area that turns into a swamp after a good rain, or becomes a dessert in the middle of summer. The soil itself needs to be in good shape too, with a mix of sand, clay and organics, and filled with nutrients. If your soil happens to be of low quality, don't despair. Few people have healthy soil unless they have been gardening for awhile, and have worked at making it that way. You can still plant one - it just might not be as productive the first year. The act of turning or tilling soil is the first step to improving it. Over time you can make amendments (additions) to improve the soil, which include adding compost, aged animal manures, green manures (cover crops), and mulches. This will be discussed in more detail in a following post.

How To Arrange Your Garden

There are several ways you can plant your garden, with row cropping being the most common. Row cropping works best for large gardens, and makes it easier to use mechanical equipment such as tillers to battle weeds. (This is the type of gardening I have experience with, so I'm able to give you my best advice from that personal experience.) If possible, allow at least 18 inches between your rows so you have plenty of room to work between them. As you sketch out your garden plan, place taller vegetables at the north side of the garden. This includes naturally tall plants, like tomatoes, and plants that can be grown on vertical supports, like snap peas, cucumbers, and pole beans. I'll be experimenting with raised garden beds this year to plant strawberries, and will update you on how it works for me in a future post.


Vegetable gardening will provide you and your family with a source of nutritious and delicious food, not to mention the health benefits from the exercise you'll get caring for your garden. And most importantly, nothing compares to the taste of garden fresh tomatoes or sweet corn straight off the stalk. Once you've grown your own fruits and vegetables, you'll never be satisfied with the store bought versions again.


Have a question, or maybe some advice of your own that you'd like to share? Please leave them in the comments below!

Gardening 101 Series:

Part 1 - Spring Gardening Season is Here!
Part 2 - Starting Seeds Indoors
Part 3 - Transplanting Seedlings Outside
Part 4 - Caring For Your Garden
Part 5 - After The Harvest

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