In The Dirt
Winter Reflections for Spring Success
As with many projects, your garden is best begun with paper and pencil and, in this case, with a hot, August day in your mind’s eye.
What do you want to grow? More importantly, what do you want to eat? You’re far more likely to spend time in your garden during a busy summer week if you’re filling a colander with the snap peas and cherry tomatoes that you love. Grab that pencil and let’s get started.
How large a garden should you plant? The best advice for the beginning gardener is to start small. The bare, brown soil that you prepare in May or June will become a lush, possibly overgrown garden by August and the discouragement that you can feel from a garden that is too much work may prevent you from trying again the following year. Resist the temptation to plant a massive garden! If you’re just getting started, plan a 10’ x 10’ space. Grow lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, and cucumbers—the veggies that you and your family eat regularly.
Here’s a tip – make each section of your garden no wider than 4 feet, which will allow you to reach the middle from each side. With a 10-foot wide garden, draw a 2-foot wide path right down the middle and the math has taken care of itself.
The Perfect Spot
Where does your garden grow? Find a spot that gets direct summer sun, which means no overhead deciduous trees such as oak or maple to shade it when their foliage gets established. Southern sun is best; if you must choose between morning and afternoon sun, choose the former, which is stronger.
Plan to water. If you use soaker hoses, which are an excellent idea, you can cover a 4-foot wide garden bed with 2 hoses, each running 1 foot from either edge of the bed. Soaker hoses buried under the soil are an incredibly efficient way to water plants, as no moisture is lost to the air but instead delivered closer to the roots of your plants. The cool water also keeps lettuces and other greens from bolting in hot weather.
Consider the Seed
Maine gardeners are very lucky to have seed companies like Fedco Seeds and Johnny’s Seeds headquartered in the state. They experiment constantly to find the varieties that thrive here, often using local gardeners to test varieties.
Fedco Seed is a cooperative seed and garden supply company in Clinton supported by over 1,000 members and workers. Known for its beautiful and artistic seed catalog, Fedco has been in business in Maine since 1978.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds, headquartered in Winslow, stresses the safety of their seed supply. If GMO-free plants are important to you, consider Johnny’s.
Sharing the Love
The deep of a Maine winter is the perfect time to learn more about your new pastime and to meet other gardeners. Many towns hold gardening lectures in a local hall, with Master Gardeners volunteering their time to discuss the ins and outs of planting vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Bring your garden plan along and compare notes with neighbors and new friends.
In late winter, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) holds a series of evening workshops around the state entitled “Grow Your Own Organic Garden.” These events, in over 30 locations, are designed to help beginning and experienced gardeners make the transition from conventional to organic gardening. Look for one near you.
Where to Get Fresh Veggies?
While planning and dreaming about your garden through the cold winter, you’ll want to continue to eat fresh vegetables as often as possible. The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets lists all of the markets in Maine, with a user-friendly website (www.mainefarmersmarkets.org) showing markets from York to Bangor and Lubec to Presque Isle. The Brunswick Winter Market was the first to arrive in 2008 and expanded rapidly to become a thriving production with over 50 vendors. It’s a real treat to roam the aisles on a cold February Saturday and find fresh lettuce and spinach, plenty of kale, root vegetables, and even tomatoes and cucumbers!
Plan the Plan
Whether you follow your plan to the letter or not, it’s important to put your ideas on paper. You need to have a good idea of what vegetables you’ll plant, how many varieties you’ll need, and how much seed to order. This is your plan, so play with it a bit and don’t feel constricted by the process, but do record your vision while you have the time. And be sure to save your garden plans each year for comparison, making notes and generally keeping track of what worked and what didn’t. Gardening is a learning process and it’s easy to forget some of the lessons as the years go by.
Next winter, when you’re holding your pencil and looking at a blank page, draw a slightly bigger box, perhaps a 15’ x 15’ garden. Add 2 or 3 more vegetables or some fruit. As every grower, from farmer to home gardener, knows, there is always next year.
Debbie Atwood gardens in Brunswick, Maine, and graduated with the Cumberland County Master Gardener Class of 2004.