Winter is a great time to think about gardens. The seed catalogs arrive earlier each year it seems, so we can look out our windows and dream of green things. (Pay no attention to the 7 feet of snow!)
A great way to help you plan is to create a garden journal. The benefit of starting a garden journal is that it helps you record your plans, progress, successes and failures. I find that I learn as much from mistakes as successes. The seeds have arrived in the stores by now, but control yourself! One seed packet has plenty of seeds for your needs. Of course, you can surf the web to your heart’s delight for ideas, but I encourage you to shop locally.
So what is your gardening goal this year? Food? Flowers? Herbs? Containers? Fragrance? Vertical gardening? Pollinators? Pick a couple of goals. You can’t do it all, but you can let your mind wander during these waning Winter months.
You can buy a published journal, or you can find pages online. Or you can make your own. I like making my own by using a loose-leaf binder so I can easily add to it.
Make a trip to the office supply store to pick up some basic items. You can use the list below to guide you. At the least, pick up a binder and notebook paper. (Note: I taught first grade for 21 years so I have an affinity/addiction for school/office supplies.)
Keep it simple and use what works for you.
- A 3-ring binder. A two-inch binder is easy to handle.
- 3-hole lined paper
- 3-hole graph paper for laying out gardens.
- Monthly dividers
- Page dividers with pockets for empty seed packets etc.
- Clear sheet protectors for saving articles.
- A pencil (extra erasers). A small pencil sharpener is handy.
- Glue sticks for gluing down pictures from catalogs.
- Sticky notes
- Small utility knife for cutting articles and pictures from catalogs
- Calendar. I like to print blank monthly calendars, free online.
- Johnny’s Seed Calculator (www.johnnyseeds.com) Instructions below to access this.
Organize in whatever way makes sense to you:
- Divide your garden into sections separated by the dividers.
- Or organize by month.
- In the divider pockets, keep plant labels, empty seed packs, photos, and magazine articles. Or use clear sheet protectors.
- Create pages for each month:
- What plants are blooming
- Wish list of plants or garden designs.
- Cut out pix from magazines and catalogs. Use the glue stick to attach the picture to your notebook paper.
- Note which plants need pruning, repotting or relocating.
- Tasks to be done. The Alaska Cooperative Extension has timely lists.
For planning your seed planting, I have found the Johnny Seeds calculator to be most helpful.
This tool figures the dates for starting seedlings indoors and for safely planting particular early crops outside, based on the frost-free date that you specify.
Plug in Last Frost Date for your area. This varies by location. Anchorage is traditionally May 31 but I have found variations online of up to several weeks earlier. (Climate change, anyone?)
And there you have the dates. Count backwards for planting. Use a calendar and note recommended dates.
Don’t forget the weather! Recording the weather is known as phenology, which is defined as “the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.” (Oxford American Dictionary). I will have more on this soon!
America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, was an avid gardener and kept his own journal. Look for a copy in used book stores or online.
Here’s an excerpt from one of his letters:
On August 20, 1811 Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend Charles Willson Peale, “I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position & calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well-watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, & no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, & instead of one harvest a continued one thro’ the year. under a total want of demand except for our family table I am still devoted to the garden. but tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.”