I just reread a journal entry of mine from November 4, 2021 – not so long ago, but forever in terms of winter in the garden. I wrote, “I’m overwhelmed by seeds… and my garden… and what to do with it. I want to clean it up, but I don’t want to disturb overwintering insects. I’m sitting in my garden now, writing instead of making any progress. There’s also so much GD mint that I’m going to have to pull, as well as some plants (calendula) that are still producing even though nighttime temperatures have already fallen below freezing.” I remember writing this entry and feeling burnt out on gardening. And good riddance, it was November!
Now it’s February and I’m itching to get my hands back in the dirt. This past week I’ve walked into my sleeping, messy winter garden several times, looking around, trying to imagine what it’ll be for the 2022 season. Just three months have passed, and that’s enough time away for me. I’ve started some seeds indoors, including tomatoes, peppers, calendula, luffa (as if I need more), thyme, amaranth (a new one for me), and zinnias. I started them nine days ago, and so far only one orange bell pepper seed has germinated (!!!), but I am keeping a very close and impatient eye on things!
I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I want my 2022 garden to be. I am giddy thinking about the days getting longer and greener, the birds returning (they're beginning to already!), and the joy that emerging seedlings spark in me.
Here’s what I hope to accomplish for the garden by the end of March:
1. Seedlings Emerging
I hope to have some baby seedlings emerging and steadily growing in my little setup indoors. I like to have big and strong tomato and pepper plants to plant when the time comes. Last year I got overzealous and put them in the ground outside before the last frost, and I lost all of my pepper plants and most of my tomato plants that I started from seed. It was a huge bummer. This year, I will try to have more patience!
2. Seeds started in milk jugs outdoors
I like to start some seeds indoors and some outdoors in plastic milk jugs. I have hung onto my jugs from last year – they’re actually distilled water jugs from when Alder and Winslow were still taking bottles, but it makes no difference – so I will rustle those up, buy some potting mix (I prefer Happy Frog), and start some native prairie seeds as well as some garden seeds. I like to start seeds like spinach, lettuce, arugula, oregano, and other cold-hardy greens outside in jugs. I find it much easier to get my greens seeds to germinate when I can baby them in jugs rather than direct-sow them in the ground. They’re just easier to keep track of and they transplant well. I start some prairie seeds in jugs for the same reason – they’re easier to supervise and transplant. I also hand-spread some outside, but that’s not as easy to keep track of their germination success. I grow some native prairie plants like echinacea and yarrow in my garden, and I have a little native prairie garden along the eastern edge of my vegetable and herb garden as a border and to provide shelter and food for native insects and critters. It’s fun to be able to watch them up close. Last year I discovered an Unexpected Cycnia Moth Caterpillar on some of my common milkweed – I would have missed out on this if I had only planted milkweed out in our 4-acre prairie restoration site!
3. Laying down compost in the garden
I was mulling this over today, and I think I am going to have the Vinland Valley Nursery, which is about 5 miles from our house, deliver a truckload of compost to our place rather than going and getting it myself. They’ll be able to dump it directly in my garden and all I’ll have to do is spread it; when I transport it myself, I also have to scoop it into the garden by hand, shovel-full by shovel-full. It’s a pain, it takes forever, and I usually end up putting it off and procrastinating.
At this point, I only have two raised beds; the rest I plant directly in the ground, so I think I am going to spread compost across the full area of the garden, which is approximately 25'x35’. Although not all of it will be ‘used’, it will make things simpler and make the garden feel tidier. Last year’s garden was a huge MESS, so a priority this year is to have a simpler, cleaner garden with fewer plants to take care of. Future me will thank me.
4. Start fresh with making my own compost
I do ‘compost’, but not well. Right now, we’re basically just diverting food waste from landfill by dumping it in our ‘compost pile’. It’s something I need to do more research on. As it is, my ‘compost’ isn’t even accessible to me. I have the bin in a poor location and the bin itself is not accessible. That’s a story for another day, but it’s a priority of mine to revamp my composting in the 2022 season in preparation for the 2023 or 2024 gardening season. Again, future me will thank me.
Some compost to-dos include buying a new compost bin that is accessible, turn-able, and in a convenient location in relation to the garden. I am planning to buy this dual-batch compost tumbler. I also need to be more diligent (read: do it, at all) about layering my browns and greens. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this Instagram page (@compostable.kate).
5. Plan a functional garden
As I mentioned, last year’s garden was a complete mess. I over-extended myself in terms of the things I was growing, so that by the time June rolled around, I was completely overwhelmed by all of the things I had to tend, and by July I had all but run out of walking space in the garden. I am determined to not do that to myself again this year. To do that, I’ll need to be more intentional about my garden layout, companion planting, and being more realistic about what I have space for and what I will actually eat. Last year I experimented with so many new plants, which was fun, but I didn’t actually even like eating most of them. So much of my produce went to my hens, which is better than going to waste, but it still felt like a waste of my labor. (Sorry, chickies.) This year, I am planning to join Megan Gilger's Fresh Exchange Community, which offers many of the resources named above.
I’m definitely going to grow fewer tomato plants, I’m going to skip things like swiss chard altogether, and I am going to be more intentional about growing things like corn. Last year I grew a single row of glass gem corn, planting it late to boot, and I didn’t get to eat a single ear of corn. It all went to the chickens or got dried for decoration. Again, not a complete waste, but I want to do things more ‘correct’ this year.
Part of my intentionality is going to include companion planting. Megan Gilger of Fresh Exchange (@freshexchange on Instagram) talks a lot about companion planting on her podcast and blog. I highly recommend giving her a listen for all things garden-related! She is my go-to and hugely inspirational. Some companion plantings will include tomatoes and basil, Three Sisters (squash, beans and corn – an Indigenous way of planting these three crops together), and frankly, whatever else Megan recommends because she is la maestra!
January and February are the ideal months to begin planning your 2022 garden. If you wait to do your dreaming and scheming until March or April, it may be too late to get a good handle on what you want for the gardening season. If it gets to that point and you’re just starting to plan, by all means, keep going! You can jump into gardening at almost any point in the year, I just find these winter months to be ideal, allowing enough time to plan, buy and start seeds if that’s your jam, and buy compost or garden soil.
What does your 2022 garden planning look like? What dreams or goals do you have for this year’s garden?