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  • Writer's pictureKatherine

Planning for the Spring and Summer Garden

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Talk to any small farmer and they will tell you that one of their favorite parts about the winter season is getting to slow down and plan for the upcoming busy season. This includes scouring through seed catalogs, drawing out a garden plan and prepping for sales in the summer months. Winter brings the time to slow down, time to dream and can also be a great time to organize for small farmers and home gardeners alike! January is a perfect time to start planning for the summer and dreaming of all the delicious veggies you could be harvesting right out your door!


Seeds

Where you buy your seeds revolves heavily around where you are in your growing journey. There are plenty of options for organic seeds for people with any budget, you just have to know where to look! A number of organic seeds can be found at your local hardware stores like Ace, Home Depot and Lowes, these can be budget friendly and great if you are in a time crunch! Sites like Johnny's Selected Seeds or High Mowing Organic Seeds are great for buying bulk for a larger scale home garden or farm.


More of my favorite places to buy seeds include: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, they always have a great selection of seeds from small farms that grow great in our South Carolina climate. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is a favorite among the farmer/gardener circuit and their Rare Seed Catalog is unrivaled in its beauty and wealth of information. They have a great selection of unusual seeds that they are bringing back into existence. Lastly, if your budget is very tight, you can always shop for seeds from a conventional seed company and purchase "Untreated" seeds. There is a local seed company in South Carolina that I have had great experiences with, Twilley Seed Company. Make sure if your goal is to grow organically, you look for the words "organic" or "untreated" seed.


If you are starting from scratch this year, figure out what kind of space you have to grow and then work forward from there. Square foot gardening is a great option for those with limited space and there is a wealth of free information on Pinterest! I have used this method in my raised beds and it really helps to maximize smaller spaces.


Growing Zones and Seasonal Crops


Next, make a list of your favorite vegetables by season. Head over to the USDA website to see what growing zone you are in. This will be your guide when you are buying seeds. If you find a cold hardy variety that is rated for Zones 4-6 and you live in Zone 9 it likely will not grow where you are.


It is important to learn what plants grow in the cool, warm and hot seasons. Spring crops such as broccoli, cabbage and other greens like cool weather and will benefit from light frost but if you live in South Carolina like me where we have very temperate winters, you can almost grow these vegetables all winter long! Focus on purchasing seeds for your cool weather crops first. Artichoke, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Greens (Kale, Collard, Mustard), Lettuce, Carrots, Beets, Turnips, Radish, Spinach and Cilantro are all cool season crops. They grow best when the soil is around 50 degrees and will often sweeten in flavor with a light frost.


Some growers do not delineate warm season crops and hot season crops, but in South Carolina where the summer heat can get extreme, many of the vegetables that like temperate climates (squash, beans, zucchini) wither up under the heat. So, I always plan to plant those in middle spring (April) and know that by July they will be finished. Hot weather crops like okra, melons and sweet potatoes thrive in the heat and do not tolerate any cool weather. These are best direct seeded in May/June. Then tomatoes, peppers and eggplant have always been resilient. My established pepper plants survived the summer heat up until late November 2022 when we harvested the last batch of jalapeños!


To save some money on seeds, focus on the vegetables that you need to start right now! Cool season crops and warm season crops that need to be started indoors should come first. Then save up some more money the following months and make sure to purchase the rest of your seed by March or April.


To split it up throughout the year, I like to purchase cool season seeds in July so that I can grow them for a fall, winter and spring harvest, then come January (hello, Christmas money) I can purchase warm and hot season crops.


Space Planning


One of my favorite parts of having the large garden at our farm was planning out the 1.5 acre space and dreaming about all of the delicious veggies! Moving from that to having less than half an acre in the middle of the city has been a welcome challenge. Our first year we only grew in raised beds and containers. Then in 2022 we decided to cut down some invasive trees and build a 500 sq ft in ground garden. It gave us a lot more wiggle room with crops. Buying enough (or too much) seeds to fill space in the garden can be a challenge but familiarizing yourself with companion plants and what not to plant near each other is an important step of planning.


Vining crops such as sugar snap peas, beans, melons and winter squash can be grown vertically to take up less space in the garden. Making an archway out of winter squash or beans is a really cool garden feature and thankfully there are many free ideas out there already! I have used an old wooden ladder to let cucumbers grow on and it became such a unique feature that we continue to incorporate in it the garden.



Start where you are and use what you have available to you. Planning a garden does not have to be super complicated. Leftover pots from nursery plants or free 5 gallon pickle buckets can make great containers for plants like summer squash, tomatoes and even potatoes. Old fencing (like hardwire) and broken ladders can easily become something to let your crops grow on. I have even seen people use old pallets propped up diagonally to grow cucumbers on. Get creative, utilize space and lean on places like Pinterest and Google images to find something that could work for you and your budget.


Gardening can be accessible to everyone, it just might take a little creativity to get there!




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