Winter Garden Chores:
Organize Your Seed Supply:
Discard old seeds Except for dried beans which are used as food, I generally do not keep seeds older than 3 or 4 years. Every variety of seed has a different "shelf life" but 3-5 years is a good average. It's not that you will not have some older seeds germinate, but that the older seeds have a poor germination rate. Good germination rates save you time and money in the long run. Fresh seeds will keep you from having to replant and allow you to use your space more productively and eat continually from your garden.
Organize Seeds by Cool and Warm Season Crops. Cool crops, or spring crops, include all greens, pac choi, peas, kale, chard, beets, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, rutabagas, and kohlrabi. Warm season crops include beans, corn, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, and melons. We want to organize this way because cool season crops or spring crops will be planted as soon as soil temperature warms up to 45-55 degrees. Warm season crops won't be planted until later.
Make a Seed Inventory and List of Seeds to Purchase. This can be done on your computer or in a notebook. Customize your record to include info you need to help you plan and plant properly.
Further Divide cool season crops into those you will direct seed and those you may want to start indoors. All cool season crops can be directly seeded into your garden but if you want a jump-start on the season and you have a plan to protect your crops from late freezes then plan on starting some seeds indoors. Be sure you have adequate lighting and know when to start the seeds so they will be ready at the right time to transplant into the garden Some good choices to start indoors are lettuce, greens, kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. These are also good choices for transplants, if you do not want to start them for seeds.
Plan out your Spring and Summer GardenThis is the fun part. List every crop you want to try. Browse seed catalogs to get ideas. Include favorites and be daring enough to try new varieties. Keep separate lists: cool season crops, warm season crops, herbs, and annuals. Perennial seeds require more expertise to start from seed.
As you plan the size of the garden, consider the time you have and plant accordingly. Be honest. If you don't like or don't have the time to spend in the garden then don't over plant to the point of being overwhelmed. If you are an experienced gardener, then consider planting enough to can and preserve food through the harvest. Consider succession planting so you eat continually through the season. Additional seeds will be needed to succession plant. Or consider venturing into fruits, berries, herbs, grains.... the options are endless. If you are a beginner, I think it is better to start small and increase as you gain confidence and have success.
Browse through Seed Catalogs. With a written record of what you have on hand, the fun part of browsing through seed catalogs now begins. Along with descriptions of different varieties, these catalogs are also very helpful at educating both the experienced and inexperienced gardener. Make sure you include old time favorites and new varieties.
Order SeedsIf you are using online sources, winter is the perfect time to order. Ordering online gives you more options and varieties to choose from. Certain items like potatoes and onion sets can be ordered now and then you pick the shipping date. Many offer free shipping this time of year. I love browsing through seed catalogs. They have a wealth of knowledge and hints in them.
Favorite Seed Companies:
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Jung Seeds & Plants
Pinetree Garden Seeds
Seed Savers Exchange
Lawn and garden stores and nurseries may not have seeds in stock yet. Your options at a garden center are limited to only a few varieties. With the recent interest in heirlooms and open-pollinated varieties, nurseries and garden centers are carrying more varieties, but there are so many seeds available to the gardener that it is a shame to limit yourself. Order a few seed catalogs and explore more options. I guarantee they will inspire you.
Before choosing seed varieties, be sure you understand the difference between hybrids, heirlooms, and open-pollinated seeds. Cool season crops are usually biennials which means they need two seasons to produce seeds and would need to be overwintered and would produce seed the second year. Having open pollinated seeds is less crucial, if you do not plan on doing this. Heirloom warm season crops are definitely worth trying and are much easier to save seed from.
Heirlooms, Open-Pollinated, Hybrids, GMO's: Understanding Seeds
Order suppliesI like to order my organic fertilizers and pest control supplies now. Sometimes organic products are not easily found in the local nursery. I get lots of calls about pest problems. If you have to order products, then it delays the management and control of pest and disease. If you have an orchard, the frequent spray schedule requires that you plan ahead.
These are the basic products I recommend having on hand if you grow a large garden and have the funds. I also included a bare essentials list for those on a limited budget.
- Blood Meal
- Bone Meal
- Or any other meal fertilizers you like
- Azomite or Greensand
- Liquid Fish Emulsion
- Liquid Kelp
- Neem Oil (Neem)
- Pyrethrin (Pyola)
- Jack's Dead Bug Brew (Spinosad) essential if you have an orchard
- Serenade (If fungal disease is a problem)
- Surround Crop Protectant (Kaolin Clay) essential if you have an organic orchard
Limited Budget Plan:I would invest in compost, Neem oil, bone meal, and liquid fish emulsion.
Any organic product with citrus oils or clove oils are great to spot spray weeds. They are effective and safe. You may want to try a per-emergent weed control for garden paths or weed cloth barrier.
CompostYou will also need compost. If you purchase it, look for products without time released fertilizers. My favorite compost is Nutri-Mulch which is a composted turkey manure. Learning to compost is great option.
Other Possible Supplies:
- Light weight and medium weight row covers
- Material for a low tunnel
- 1-2 Gallon Sprayer (It's worth investing in a good sprayer so you don't waste time fixing and unclogging a cheap one. Also I prefer a 1 gallon it's easier on the back. For the orchard we have a 15 gallon that attaches to the back of our 4 wheeler.)
Places to purchase supplies:Garden's Alive carries pyrethrin. It is sold as Pyola. Peaceful Valley also carries pyrethrin. Be careful when purchasing pyrethrin products. There are non-organic chemical versions and additives that are a poor choice for the organic gardener.
The Kaolin Clay is sold as Surround and can be purchased at both recommended garden sites.