1 of 2
Bright Lights Chard
Recommended for gardeners, seasoned or otherwise: caging Bright Lights Chard and other critter favorites.
2 of 2
Barrel for Rainwater
Recommended for gardeners, seasoned or otherwise: a barrel to catch rainwater.
This is the first in a three-part series to celebrate the magazine’s 25th anniversary year. More to come in July/August and November/December issues.
1. Dream. Surround yourself with garden books and seed catalogs. Indulge. Get inspired. And then . . .
2. Create a garden plan. Decide what you want to grow – and where – but . . .
3. Start small. Assess your time and energy – realistically – before digging up the whole back yard. There’s nothing more ego-crushing to a neophyte gardener than failure. (The experienced gardener knows that failure is part of gardening.) And there is no more risky behavior than starting too big.
4. Assess your site. What’s the soil like? Is the site exposed to wind? If it’s on a hill, what direction does it face? Does it get a lot of sun or nearly none?
5. Research soil, sun and moisture requirements for proposed crops. Are they a good match for your site? You can amend poor soil, and water when it’s dry. But no shady plot will produce a bumper crop of tomatoes.
6. Keep records – as simple as notations on a calendar, fancy as a journal with garden plans, photos, precipitation, planting and harvesting records. Don’t like to write things down? Use your digital camera to keep a mostly photographic record. Next year it will show you what you planted where (something spectacularly easy to forget), as well as inspire you.
7. Gear up I: Invest in good tools. A cheap trowel will bend (and then break) at the neck. Get a good trowel, claw, hoe and spade, no matter what. On a limited budget? Scour flea markets for tools that outlived someone else and will probably outlive you.
8. Gear up II: Gloves. Unless you love dirt under your fingernails, wear gloves when gardening: leather for pruning, mud gloves for mucking about in spring, lightweight gloves that fit like a second skin for most other tasks. Look for gloves that fit, and allow freedom of movement. Ask gardening friends for recommendations.
9. Gear up III: Install a rain gauge and record rainfall. You need to know how much moisture your garden has received – this week, this month, this season. Gauges are inexpensive – and worth every penny.
10. Rule of thumb I: Seize the day. Take advantage of every chance you get to work in the garden. An unexpectedly warm winter afternoon? Prune the raspberries. A run of beautiful April days? Spread compost. The gym can wait; the garden can’t. The weather can – and does – turn on a dime.
11. Rule of thumb II: Take a chance. Packets of lettuce, mesclun and oriental greens contain far more seeds than you need. Start a few extra early. With luck you’ll be enjoying homegrown salad greens weeks before your more cautious friends.
12. Sow seed under lights and/or in a cold frame – not to save money, but to get varieties you can’t find in garden centers, or to have plants to set out extra early. If you’re starting plants inside, invest in lights. Windowsills produce leggy plants.
13. Ask. When I moved south from my native New England, I didn’t know when to plant. My next-door neighbor, an experienced gardener, did. Gardeners are generous; they love sharing their knowledge (and their produce).
14. Try something new. Sure, plant your old standbys, varieties that have produced reliably for you. But try something new too. Gardens are always works in progress.
15. Get your early garden in early. Hardy and half-hardy crops – spinach, peas, salad greens, cabbage, broccoli and onions – love cool, moist weather and can survive light frosts. Peas can withstand 20° temperatures. Cool weather crops languish in summer heat, so make haste. Get them in.
16. Protect tender seedlings. Transplants are expensive. Harden them off for several days. When you set them out, water well, then pop on mini-greenhouses (gallon jugs with bottoms and lids removed). Leave in place until plants take hold.
17. Move it! Early spring’s the best time to relocate struggling perennials and shrubs. Research their moisture, soil and sun requirements, then move them to happier spots. Water well until they show new growth, and keep an eye on them all summer.
18. Nip it! Pruning is an art. Learn what to prune when. In late winter, do general and renewal pruning of trees, vines and shrubs; prune summer-flowering plants that set buds on new wood (butterfly bush, crape myrtles, etc.). Once new growth has appeared, cut out deadwood, damaged wood and shoots growing in the wrong direction; pinch back new growth; shear conifer hedges.
19. Compost. Deconstruct compost piles in spring. Set aside material that hasn’t broken down; spread a thin layer of “black gold” on garden beds.
20. Keep critters out. Don’t let bunnies, deer and groundhogs mow your plantings down. Can’t afford to fence the whole garden? Erect cages around greens, peas, cole crops and beans.
21. Try edible landscaping. Plant Bright Lights chard and curled parsley in flowerbeds and along a walk; deploy pollinator favorites amid veggies.
22. Thin, thin, thin. No one can plant carrot seed thinly enough. Be brutal. Thin once, twice, thrice if necessary, or court failure.
23. Collect rainwater. Install barrels under downspouts to tide your garden over during dry spells without running the well dry or the water bill sky high.
24. Between mid-May and early June, get hot-weather crops (squash, cukes, tomatoes, peppers, etc.) in. When early crops come out, plant beans; legumes fix nitrogen in soil.
25. Cover bare ground. Mulch suppresses weeds, conserves moisture, and feeds your soil. Use it.
Bonus item (and fun)! Monitor your garden daily. Make your morning coffee, then make your garden rounds. Find out what needs your attention; prioritize garden tasks.