You've got a list of plants and you've selected a patch for your garden. You've been working to get that patch ready for planting day. But before you can plant, you'll need to invest in some equipment. To turn the soil, in my last post I recommended a potato fork. You will also need a few more tools to get started. Invest in some gardening gloves. You may think that you'd rather get your hands in the dirt, but the dirt-under-the-fingernails look is not as alluring as it might seem. And gloveless hands have a tendency to get scratched and torn up, not to mention exposed to that vine of poison ivy that you just grabbed. Get some gloves.
All of my garden tools came from auctions. I recommend that you be on the lookout for estate sales with garden tools listed. Craig's List is the modern equivalent. A garden supply store is the next option. In addition to the potato fork, you'll need a rake and a shovel. More equipment is always nice, but it isn't necessary to get started.
Collect some weather data for your planting zone. Until the danger of frost has passed, you don't want to set out any plants. But you can plant some frost-hearty seeds. I have radishes, carrots, beets, and onions out right now. To this list you can add potatoes, leeks, scallions, broccoli, and cauliflower. Other early crops may thrive in your climate ---- read up on line or check with the local nursery. In the end, your personal palate and garden space should dictate how much you plant.
Some folks start seedlings inside while the weather is still cold. I don't do that; I've never had much luck with getting enough light in the basement for that process to succeed. But if you'd like to go that route for next year, I'd recommend reading up on the Organic Gardening test garden blog.
Each December, I buy my seeds on-line from Pinetree Nursery. You can buy seeds at the garden store, but you will pay a lot more (and you won't get better seeds for the money). Pinetree is a small Maine-based business and I see from their website that they are over-loaded this year (yeah for them and home gardening!). Those seed packets are your friends; read the instructions on the packet and follow them. If it says to plant the seeds ¼ an inch deep, that's what you should do. Mark the depth you need to plant with your rake:
Then put the seeds down into the row you marked. Below are some beet seeds:
Mark the rows with sticks or garden markers (or my practical, if inelegant, fork with the seed envelope method).
Eventually, right around the time the seed packets have faded and frayed, the plants will come up and you can remove the markers. Some seedlings should be thinned after they've sprouted....if that's the case, the seed envelope instructions will say as much.
In the early spring, your soil should be nice and moist. If it's not, turn on a sprinkler for 30 minutes about 3 hours before you plant. In my climate, until the temps get over 70 on a regular basis, I can let rain water handle the watering chores. But once temps are regularly above 70 degrees, I'll water the garden for 30 minutes every 3 – 4 days. You should start to learn your own climate and be aware of rainfall. A good rule of thumb: check the soil an inch or two down before you water....if it's damp, wait another day before you turn on the sprinkler. Watch the pressure: young plants prefer a gently spray. In the spring, water in the early morning so that the sun's warmth can dry off the plants during the day (you don't want wet plants sitting in wet, cold soil all night long)
And now you wait. It will take a week or two (or more) before you begin to see sprouts from the early plantings. I sketch out a picture of my garden so that I know what I planted and where I planted it (it's easy to forget and when it's time to weed, I don't want to pull up the wrong things, a risk for me because of my vigorous weeding habits). JT and I walk through the garden every few days so that we can check things out. This weekend, we saw a radish sprout:
About 10 days from now, I'll have some tips for putting later spring seeds and actual plants in the ground. That's flowers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and peppers.