It’s March, y’all! In just a few short weeks, we will be planting our first plants and I am ridiculously excited. There is not much more thrilling, mood enhancing, joyous, and prideful moment then harvesting your first vegetable from your garden. When you plant a bunch of peppers, dehydrate them, and use them in your dinner? It’s an indescribable feeling. But in order to get there, you have to do some work to prepare your vegetable garden.
Before we get too far into this post, I wanted to give a suggestion about keeping a garden journal. A digital garden journal is a fantastic way to keep track of past, present and future gardens. Our Digital Garden Journal is a great way to keep up with everything without getting too overwhelmed.
Before You Prepare Your Garden
They say that the first thing you should do on your homestead is start with a garden. They would be right, unfortunately, most of us start with animals. We get attached to our critters and then end up with a poorly producing garden, or no garden. But your garden has the potential for being the most money saving thing on the homestead! So there are a couple things I like to do every year before I prepare my garden.
Check Last Years Journal/ Notes
Every year, I keep a garden journal. Mine is multi-year so that I can look back and see what we did, how it worked, etc. This really helps because there are a ton of finer details of a garden that sometimes get missed. Like how much you watered your peppers? Did you use pig, chicken, goat manure? What variety of melon did you hate? This information is important to make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes, but also so that you can make sure you are doing the “right” thing for your gardens.
Look At What You Preserved
If you are using a garden for fresh eating, then I would take notes on what you are eating, how much you ate, etc. If you preserve your garden, go to your pantry and figure out what all you have eaten, used, etc and determine how much you need for this years gardens. For example, I know that we average 2 quarts of spaghetti sauce a week. That means that I need to make sure that we have at least 100 quarts of spaghetti sauce by the time my tomatoes are done for the year. This will help you determine how many plants you need.
Consider Your Animals Needs
If you have chickens, goats, pigs or other livestock, you should consider how much of their feed you could grow. This will look different for everyone based on the space they can dedicate to a garden and how many and the size of their animals, but this is something to consider. We have the space to have a fairly large garden, that means that I can absolutely grow a fair amount of feed for my animals. I know that pigs and chickens can eat basically anything in my garden. The goats require a little more care to make sure that whatever they eat, won’t make them sick. But I know that all of my animals can eat corn, beets, tomatoes, peppers, etc. So I will plant extra for them.
How To Prepare Your Vegetable Garden
On to what I know you are interested in.
Depending on your philosophies for gardening, you will want to go ahead and clear any debris, weeds, or other things you don’t want in your garden. Our garden is roughly 58ft by 108ft, the 8ft is just to account for gates and walkways. That is just over triple the size of last years garden. We are going to be producing more of our animals feed this year which is why we are taking up more space.
Clearing The Garden
Because we are making the garden much, much bigger, we have to go in and clear a lot of debris from the previous owners, as well as a couple of dead trees that are in the way. We also have to pull a lot of briars and other browse that the goats didn’t get to last year. This actually works out well because we can actually replant the briars in an area that we are leaving for the goats. Win, win.
Lay Out Fencing
Now, you don’t have to put up fencing around your garden. In fact, a lot of people don’t. But we free range a lot of our animals and the goats and pigs would absolutely DESTROY the garden if we didn’t protect it. Last year the ducks ate all of the garden and the goats used our baby fruit trees as scratching posts. So we learned to protect our food. Because we are expanding our garden, we removed the old fence and reused it when we put up the new one.
I consider anything that I add to my soil (including more soil) an additive. You should have a soil test done every year to make sure that you are only using additives that you need. Too much nitrogen will kill your plants, even nitrogen loving plants like corn and tomatoes. You should also make sure that you aren’t adding hot manure straight to your soil.
All hot manure should be composted to make sure that it won’t burn your plants. Hot manure comes from pigs, chickens, horses, etc and should be aged or composted because they are so high in nitrogen. Cow, sheep, goat and rabbit manure are considered cold and could be put right on the plant with minimal adverse affects. However, I still allow my pig and chicken manure to compost in their bedding before adding it onto my plants. Just to be safe.
Other additives would be liquid fertilizers, pesticides, etc. This is where your philosophies will come into play. I do not spray or add anything to my plants. The reason is because I don’t feel like it’s necessary. I compost regularly for fertilizers, add mulch for weed protection and have chicken tractors in my gardens for fertilizer, weed control, and pest protection. I’ll be posting a whole post about our chicken tractors in the garden here soon.
Sourcing Your Plants
No matter what plants you decide on, either starting your own seedlings or buying starts from the store, the simple fact that you are starting a garden is amazing! Don’t freak out about not having the “right” things. Starting a garden is the best part.
Starting Your Own Starts
This is hands down the most economical approach but it definitely requires patience and some start ups. I use 1020 trays and 2in pots. Each 1020 tray will hold 50 2in pots. After soil, pots, trays and seeds, each tray costs me about $15.
I usually don’t transplant into bigger pots because I feel it’s unnecessary but you do what you need to. Since my garden is so large (again 58ft x108ft) I need 100’s of starts.
Uh…Remember that I offer full disclosure in every single post….. Well, let me tell you, the pots I used last season did not do well. I’m not 100% sure what caused the issues. It could be soil, the pots were too small, Blu wanting to look outside, not enough sunlight? I don’t know but out of about 1000 starts, only about 200 made it into the garden. Out of the 200, ALL of them were stunted, if they grew at all.
Now, I use these pots, inserts, and 1020 from Bootstrap Farmer and I have had MUCH more success. I would highly recommend using these. Out of about 4 trays of starts (128 pots) in this system, I have only had 1 not make it…. and there’s a really good chance we forgot to put a seed in it….oops
The best part about starting your own seeds is that you have the ability to get a bunch of different varieties. I have 5 different tomato varieties and at least 8 different pepper varieties. I buy most of my seeds from True Leaf, Eden Brothers, or Territorial Seed Company.
Buying plant starts can be a great way to start your garden. Again, just starting a garden is fantastic, so don’t think you HAVE to start your own seedlings. Last year, my ducks ate ALL of my starts. I found a local nursery that only charged me $2/ 4 pack tray. That’s a great price! Especially because big box stores charge $3-6 per plant.
The biggest downside to buying plant starts is the lack of variety. When you go to the store, you are probably never going to see luffa gourds. That’s sad because not only are they amazing sponges but luffa is great for goats!
Prepare Your Beds
Whether you are planting in raised beds, in the ground, or in containers on your patio, you are moving in the right direction! Playing in the dirt is one of my favorite past times and it makes me unbelievably happy. There is nothing like it. I am very excited that you are getting ready to start on your gardens. Big or small doesn’t matter. Starting does.
Building Your Beds
If you are using a raised bed system, you should be building these in the late winter or early spring. For us, March is the last push to get any infrastructure for the garden done. This means building beds, sourcing soil, moving compost, etc. If you are building beds, you don’t want to run out of space half way through planting season and then get bogged down having to make multiple trips to the store for supplies.
Laying Out Your Garden
If you are planting in the ground, you should have a plan of what you want your rows to look like. Where are you putting the peppers, tomatoes, rosemary? Are you going to work on companion planting? All of these things are very important to figure out BEFORE you get too far into planting. So do yourself a favor and spend a few minutes planning your rows.
For some reason most people think about watering their gardens last. I don’t really know why since it is possibly THE most important thing. But I am equally as guilty of this. Last year, it was a last minute, oh crap moment that resulted in 4 trips to Lowes to get more irrigation hose. So do yourself a favor and put your garden in close to your water source, and figure out how much hose or water you need first. This year, the cost of drip hoses was going to be ridiculous, so we are toying with the idea of a sprinkler system. We haven’t decided yet. Because again, we are waiting till last minute….oops.
Get To Planting
This is the best part of any garden. Personally, I absolutely LOVE my kitchen gardens and raised beds. I don’t know what it is but when I get to play in the raised beds, it brings me indescribable joy. The big garden? Not so much. I love it, but I’ll hang in the kitchen garden thank you.
Whether you are planting in rows, raised beds or containers, the big thing to remember is spacing is important! You don’t want to stack your tomatoes too close, but peppers should be a little closer. Zucchini needs room, but beans can be 4in apart. Just remember to keep your spacing in mind as you plant.
The most important part of preparing your vegetable gardens? Enjoy it!