Tips for Designing & Refining Your Planting Schedule

Especially for first-time gardeners, knowing what to plant and when can be a challenge. While there are certainly planting calendars and apps available to help you make this decision, ultimately you have to use a bit of your own best judgment. To help you make the best decisions possible we’ve put together some tips.

Know your zone.

While plant hardiness zones aren’t the end-all of planting, they can definitely help give you an idea of when it’s time to do what and when to expect your first and last frost. Check out our full post on hardiness zones here.

Plan for multiple successions.

To make the most of your time and space you should plan on succession planting. It’s when you stagger plantings or plant multiple crops in the same area throughout the season. Each time a crop is finished you pull it and plant a new one.

Read our posts, Succession Planting 101 and Succession Planting Flowers to get started.

If you can set up some season extenders.

Season extenders are your best friend. Having the option of using things like cold frames, hoop houses, low tunnels, and even just frost/shade cloth gives you a lot more wiggle room on both ends.

While it may be obvious that warm weather plants will benefit from warmer soils and frost protection, the benefits to cool-season plants can be less obvious. Using row cover (we often use tulle) allows us to plant cool-season crops much later. It keeps the soil cooler and keeps out troublesome pests like cabbage worms.

Need some ideas? Check out our post on easy season extension.

Watch the weather.

Even if you’re an experienced gardener, watching the weather can save you a lot of heartbreak. Many warmer season plants can be saved from late frosts or temperature drops if you cover them for the night. This can be accomplished with row cover or even old sheets or blankets. For best results rest your material on stakes or hoops so it’s over the plants but not touching them.

Keep a garden journal.

While it won’t help the first year, keeping a garden journal can help you hone your schedule. Try to record things like planting dates, frost events and storms, and even temperatures. In the following years, your records will help you make better-educated guesses.

Think about whether or not you want to save seed.

If you’re going to save seed you need to make sure your varieties don’t cross in order to get true seed. To accomplish this you’ll need to separate varieties.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll need a lot of space. If you live somewhere with a long growing season some plants can be separated in time. For example, you can grow multiple successions of lettuce or beans ensuring that separate varieties aren’t flowering at the same time.

Check out our post, Garden Planning for Seed Saving for more advice.

Get a soil thermometer.

Being able to check the soil temperature can help you determine planting times and achieve better germination rates.

Trust your instinct.

If you know you’re area is prone to late frosts it may not be time to plant just because it is for the rest of your hardiness zone.

Following these tips can help you get your garden off to a good start. While planting apps and charts are certainly handy, they don’t always tell the full story. Only you can decide what’s exactly right for your garden.

10 Reasons to Save Seed

This year we’re seeing many folks trying gardening for the first time or expanding gardens they already tend. We’re hoping we can get some more folks saving seed too! Whether you’re a backyard gardener or farmer here are 10 reasons you should try to save some seed this year.

Preserve Genetic Diversity

In recent years, the keeping of seeds and preservation of varieties has largely left the hands of farmers and gardeners. Seeds have become the domain of just a few big companies. These companies focus their attention on just a few varieties of each crop. As farmers and gardeners stop saving seed we lose more and more varieties.

Why is this important? While we love all of our open-pollinated and heirloom varieties for many reasons, like flavor, beauty, and frost resistance, just to name a few, we also know we might really need a variety’s particular traits someday.

Take Gourdseed Corn as an example. It was almost lost, virtually disappearing by the 1960s as interest in hybrid corn grew. However, recently discovered surviving varieties have shown important disease resistance most notably to southern leaf blight.

Save Money

Seeds aren’t the most expensive purchase in the world but they can add up fast if you’ve got a large garden. Saving at least a few of your favorite varieties can save you some cash each year. Plus, you might find a seed swap where you can trade for a few other varieties as well.

Connect with Your Ancestors

If you’ve got older gardeners in the family you may be able to save seed from something they’ve been growing for years. Thanks to the internet you can also find heirlooms that were developed in regions you’re ancestors are from no matter where you currently reside.

Even if you don’t know who you’re ancestors were or what they grew, growing some of your own food provides a living tie to history. You can also start a new tradition with an open-pollinated variety, handing seed down to your children.

Become More Self Reliant

In troubled times many people desire to become more self-reliant. Saving seed is a great skill to develop!

Learn About Nature

Taking your crops through a full life cycle can be a great learning experience, especially for kids.

Did you know that not all common garden crops produce seed during their first year of growth? Check out this post to learn about biennials (plants that produce seed the second year).

Adapt Seeds to Your Garden

When you save seeds from your best plants each year you’re gradually making improvements. Future seeds will be more adapted to grow in your particular climatic and soil conditions.

Help Pollinators

Saving seed means that more plants in your garden will be allowed to flower. Many plants that are fairly easy to save seed from like lettuce, radish, and basil are pollinator favorites!

Reclaim Rights to Open Pollinated Seeds

When you save and share seed you’re helping to support everyone’s right to save and grow seeds and breed plants. Learn more about this over at the Open Source Seed Initiative.

Create New Varieties

Once you get a handle on seed saving, you can try your hand at creating varieties of your own!

Control Your Food Supply

When you save seed and start your own plants you know exactly what’s going into them. It’s great for organic farmers and gardeners.

Want to learn more about seed saving?

We are beginning to design an online class on seed saving. Please check out this quick survey we put together about this potential seed saving class. If enough people respond, we will make it happen!

Seed Saving Survey

Starting a Garden From Scratch Without a Tiller

Starting a garden from scratch isn’t always easy especially if you don’t have access to a lot of tools. These methods can be done with little or no tools and a perfect for beginner gardeners or experienced gardeners looking to expand their growing area this season.

Lasagna Garden

The lasagna or layer garden method has recently gained popularity and is a fairly easy way to start a brand new garden if you’ve got easy access to a good amount of organic materials.

To start you’ll need to lay down brown cardboard in the shape you want your garden. Don’t use shiny cardboard. It doesn’t decompose as well and may contain harmful chemicals and/or plastics.

Cover your cardboard shape with a thick layer of hay, straw, and leaves. Some food waste, sawdust, and/or shredded paper can also be incorporated into this layer. Follow this with a layer of compost or manure.

The last layer which you’ll be planting into should be soil or well-aged compost. You’ll want it to be fairly thick to give your plants a good starting medium while the lower layers begin to break down.

Hugelkultur Mounds

Similar to lasagna gardens, hugelkultur mounds are a no-till option built of layers of organic material. However, hugelkultur mounds typically include much larger material like branches or even logs.

These materials break down more slowly meaning hugelkultur mounds may not be ready to support large, deep-rooted plants during the first couple of years. However, this slow decomposition will provide nutrients and moisture retention for years to come.

To learn more about hugelkultur mounds and how to build them check out our post How to Build a Hugelkultur Garden Bed.

Hand-Tilled Garden Beds

Long before the advent of rototillers or even plows, humans were gardening. Even if all you have is a shovel you can turn over a garden by hand.

Decide where you want your garden bed. Laying it out with stakes and string can be helpful for visualizing your design.

If desired you can solarize your soil at this point. You’ll need clear plastic, something to weigh it down, and a few weeks of patience at minimum. Lay the plastic over your plot, pulling it as tightly as possible so it’s flat against the soil. You’ll need to leave this in place for at least a few weeks depending on your weather, but this will kill grass, weeds, and even pests in the soil.

Otherwise, start turning over the soil one shovelful at a time. You want to get all the grass and roots but don’t dig too deep. You don’t want soil layers that aren’t suitable for growing (subsoil) ending up on top.

If you have one, a garden or broad fork can help you loosen deeper layers of subsoil. Use the fork to lift the soil but not turn it over.

At this point, it’s ideal to let your plot sit for a couple of days to kill the grass if you’d didn’t choose to solarize your bed.

Next, rake out your soil. Depending upon your soil type you may need to chop it up a bit with your shovel or a hoe before raking it out. Remove any large plant material and add it to your compost. If the area has lots of leaves falling from the surrounding trees,  you can use a leaf blower to efficiently clean the area.  There are recommended cordless leaf blowers for quiet clean ups available in the market that you can check out.

Ideally, you want to add a few inches of compost on top of your soil. You should also add a scoop of compost to each transplant hole.

You may be wondering what is the most important tool for gardening? We have come to the conclusion that having a pole pruner will allow you to remove branches from trees that cannot be reached from the ground, you can use it with a blade or saw. Also, it helps you reach fruits from any height you need.


Traditional Raised Beds

Raised beds can help you get started gardening quickly and are perfect for utilizing places that lack quality (or any) soil like rooftops, driveways, or contaminated ground. If you’re using them on contaminated ground, be sure to build them with a bottom so roots don’t grow into the contaminated soil below.

However, they also come with some downsides like that they can be expensive if you don’t live somewhere with ready access to free material like lumber, logs, compost, etc. Before building raised beds, check out our post, The Pros and Cons of Raised Beds.

Thankfully, if you don’t care what they look like, there are many materials you can use to create raised beds. Logs, boards, stones, bricks, even woven sticks (like wattle fencing) can be used to create the sides. Just avoid pressure-treated lumber or other treated materials like railroad ties

Fill the inside with good quality compost or garden soil.

Container Gardens

Anyone can start a container garden, even if you only have indoor space! You don’t need actual plant pots, you can make a container garden from nearly anything. Plastic totes, five-gallon buckets, even old shoes all work. Some people just cut open bags of soil and plant right into them. Just remember that larger plants typically grow deeper roots and will need larger containers to thrive.

To ensure your garden drains well, you should drill a few holes in the bottom of your planter. If this isn’t possible, I like to add some woody material like broken up sticks or a few handfuls of wood chips to the bottom to help absorb excess moisture.

It’s best to use potting soil for container gardens because it drains much better than regular garden soil. You can also use a mix of potting soil and compost.

Check out the 12 Varieties Perfect for Container Gardening!

Additional Resources

Saving the Past for the Future