The Five Ws (and one H) are basic information gathering tools that actually have been used since ancient Rome. They are a great formula for getting the complete story on a subject for a journalist, and we gardeners can use them, too, to get the whole scoop for our next year’s garden. Winter is the ideal time to plan, so get out your pen and paper and let’s get to work!
We’re talking research. When I either look back to what I did last year that didn’t work, or look forward to what I’d like to grow, I find I need help. Who can tell me what I need to know about x, y and z? Finding resources and experts to answer the questions I have is great use of my time in the winter. This includes talking with my favorite guru at my local garden supply store, going to the library and checking out books to read on a particular subject, contacting my extension office, and of course using the internet to research topics.
Time to make lists. Depending on how you look at this, thinking about what you want to grow can either be overwhelming or fun. When I start to feel overwhelmed, the first thing I do is scale back on my expectations of myself and think small. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to try to do too much on too large of a scale. Creating categories helps, too, by breaking down the job into little pieces.
To make this list-making process fun, start out by dreaming. For vegetable gardens, imagine what you’d like to eat next year, what recipes you enjoy and make a list of possible things to grow. Watch when supermarket shopping for which vegetables are more expensive and add them to your list to see if it’s worth growing them on your own. For flower gardens, envision what flowers you would like to be able to cut and enjoy on the table or give as gifts. Sit in the spots where you have a view and visualize what colors would create the most interesting or beautiful scene, and which flowers would add appealing fragrance. If you have trouble picturing things in your head, it’s helpful to peruse magazines and websites (or spy on other neighbors’ gardens throughout the year). Consider joining a garden club or online forum this year to augment your brainstorming and Better Homes & Gardens connect with others.
Mark your calendar. Timing planting can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. A beginner gardener might start with 1-3 items for spring, 1-3 items for summer and 1-3 items for fall. Advanced gardeners will have a succession planting plan and layer crops throughout the seasons, and have a detailed agenda for starting and transplanting seeds. Either way, look at the requirements (days to germination, season for growing [warm, cool, long, short, overwinter crops, etc.]) for each item you’ve chosen to plant and incorporate the details on your calendar to the level you are comfortable. The most important thing is to start that process now, so that you are on top of it before the time comes. If you are starting seeds, that often begins in February which is right around the corner. There are many great websites with tools to help with this process: Better Homes & Gardens offers a free tool and Mother Earth News has a more comprehensive one with a fee.
Garden mapping is where it’s at! If you want to be this organized about it, or even if you don’t, drawing out diagrams of your gardens and where you plant is helpful in so many ways. It helps with planning, calculating, ordering. And over time, it can be a useful history to document what you’ve done in the past and have a record of what grows well where, or what doesn’t! Graph paper is really useful for this part of the planning process. You can be as exact as you want which would allow you to note sizes and help with the math. Or, you can use a diagram just to loosely map out where to put your plants. The details you include can contain amount of sunlight hours for different locations, soil conditions, notes about drainage, etc.
This is always a good question to revisit each year. We spend a lot of time and money on our gardens. What is your primary goal or motivation for doing what you do? Is it for sheer enjoyment? To help manage the family budget? To provide healthier fresh food? Exercise? Whatever the reason, knowing it and being clear about that primary purpose can help you stay focused, prioritize, problem solve and encourage yourself when something fails or doesn’t work. Write it down on paper this winter.
Determine how to accomplish your goals. Here are three things to think about: seeds, system and supplies.
Seeds: Will you start your own seeds or buy transplants? Some plants are hard to find transplants of and may have to be started. Where will you buy the seeds?
System: What planting system will you use? Raised beds, traditional rows, square foot gardening are all options to consider.
Supplies: What equipment or supplies do you need to purchase? Whether it’s replacing an old tool, or buying new supplies to start seeds for the first time, you’re certain to need something. Be sure to check out GardenWeasel.com for some helpful and time-saving tools.
If you start now with planning for next year’s garden, you’ll have a good three months to spread out your time and money.