Your gardening questions are already rolling in and are working on responses for you! Be on the lookout for those in our advice column blog next Tuesday.

For you newbies who are  interested in growing food at home but have no idea where to start, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you begin planning your own Victory Garden venture.

Know your “Hardiness Zone.”

Your zone simply describes how cold it gets where you live. In Northeast Ohio, the coldest we get is -5° to -10° F, which puts us in zone 6. This determines what kind of plants we can grow outdoors. For example, tropical plants do not do well around here in the winter!

Know your “Frost Dates.”

Frost kills many garden plants, so you need to make sure your crops aren’t going in too early or too late. In our region, we usually won’t get a frost after mid-May or before mid-October.

Cool weather crops vs. warm weather crops.

As mentioned above, some plants, such as tomatoes, can’t tolerate frost and should not be planted in the garden until late May. These are considered warm weather crops. Cool weather crops, on the other hand, do better in spring (and fall), and can be planted much earlier. Peas, for example, can generally go in the ground at the end of March.

Understand “Days to Maturity.”

Your seed packet will list a plant’s days to maturity, meaning the time it takes between planting and harvest. This matters because we only have so many days in our growing season in our area. If you want to grow a plant that takes a long time to mature (sometimes called “long season crops”), you will need to purchase transplants or start your own indoors as opposed to planting seeds directly in the ground. Counting the number of days to maturity backward from the harvest date is the best way to know if you have enough time to grow something from seed outdoors.

Keep your soil covered.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to ensure that your garden is successful is to mulch around your plants. Mulch moderates soil temperatures, retains moisture, controls weed, and provides shelter for the helpful creatures that live in the soil. Many different materials work well as mulch, including grass clippings, leaves, straw, rotted wood chips, and even weeds you have pulled. For best results, lay it on thick!

Start small.

You do not have to have a 25’ x 50’ Victory Garden like the one shown here. You can grow food at your local community garden or even in containers on your porch or patio. Every little bit helps.

Victory Garden beds ready to plant!

 

What can you do now?

 

1. Prepare your soil.

If you already have a garden patch or space at a community garden, now is a good time to work some compost into your soil. Starting from scratch? If you have a bit of lawn free to convert into garden space, here is a simple technique for prepping an area for planting:

You will need:

  • A shovel
  • Used cardboard (with stickers and tape removed) or newspaper
  • Wood chips (you may be able to score some free here)
  • Compost (bagged compost is available at home improvement or landscape supply stores)
  • A garden fork

The process:

Step 1: Dig a trench 1’ wide by 1’ deep.

Step 2: Lay the clumps of grass you have removed grass-side down in the trench.

Step 3: Fill the trench with any remaining soil.

Step 4: Lay the cardboard (or newspaper, several layers thick) along the outer edges of the trench and wet it so it molds to the ground.

Step 5: Mulch over the cardboard or newspaper with wood chips (at least 3” deep).

Step 6: Top off the trench with compost to make a mounded row, then work the compost into the soil a bit with your garden fork.

You can add additional rows to make a larger garden plot, or simply build rows wherever you have space!

 

2. Start growing!

Starting your garden plants indoors is more complicated than planting directly into your garden, so if you are completely new to gardening, I would recommend buying plants this year and focusing on establishing your garden instead. If you want to give indoor growing a try, here is an excellent guide on Starting Seeds Indoors from the Seed Savers Exchange. Many seeds can go in the ground now for a bountiful harvest in the coming months. When planting, be sure to follow the spacing requirements on the seed packet and keep the soil moist until your seeds germinate. Seeds should be planted to a depth of about twice the diameter of the seed.

 

Here are some great options for seeds you can sow now:

  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Beets
  • Radishes