What Does a Gardener Do In December?
What a fantastic question! Great job for asking such a good gardening question.
The short answer is “plan.” Most gardeners are huge organization nerds while others just sorta make it up as they go. If you’re into making detailed plans, your garden will thank you and the more planning you do in the winter months the easier everything will be once Spring kicks into gear.
It’s also important to mention that there is a lot to consider when gardening. Winging it year after year will result in some wins and some losses. However, if you take the time to plan, read up, review past notes, and walk through the next several months in your mind or on paper will help you become a much better gardener and you’ll see better and better results year after year. Enjoy the planning process, it’s the contemplative, type-A part of gardening.
- Planning – What Do Ya Want to Grow?
You want to start thinking about which spring and summer crops you want to grow. Spring crops will need to be started indoors as early as late-January so now’s the time to get on the ball.
Do you want to try growing something new? Do you want another attempt at a vegetable that didn’t go well last year? Did you love your tomatoes last summer and want to do it all again? Did you plant too much of something? Do you want to try succession planting?
Things to consider: previous years yields, past successes/failures, experimentation with new species or techniques, timeline for planting.
Supplies: A spreadsheet or calendar is going to make your life way easier not only when planning out your timeline of sowing, hardening off, transplanting, etc. but being able to see what you planted and when year after year will provide a lot of essential insight. You’ll learn better if you’re taking notes.
- Plotting – Where Do Ya Want to Grow it?
Once you have a clear idea of what you want to grow it’s onto designing mode. Arguably this is one of the most fun and enjoyable parts of planning. I use a large dry erase board to sketch out my raised beds and begin filling in veggies. Others use spreadsheets, software, or just a sketchpad. The goal is to lay out your garden down to the plant type, spacing, successions, and timeline. The more you plan and weigh all the factors the better off you’ll be. I can’t stress this enough.
Things to consider: Companion plants and intercropping (what grows well together to maximize yield/space,) rotating crop types from bed to bed to prevent pests, disease, and nutrient depletion, sunlight and shading, watering needs in relation to your water source.
Supplies: Now is a great time to invest in a garden journal, notebook, or sketch pad. Taking notes, sketches, or photos of your garden will help you immeasurably over the course of the year and for years after.
- Inventory – What Have Ya Got? What Do Ya Need?
Once you know what to plant and where to plant it the next step is buying seeds, stocking up on supplies, & buying or building the necessary tools. I order almost all my seeds from the amazing folks at the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for a host of reasons. You can order on their website, from their catalogue (which is delightful,) or around town like Gather Home & Garden or the Great Big Greenhouse. Stock up as soon as possible to reduce the chances of being unable to find what you’re looking for.
It’s important to store your seeds correctly to prolong their lifespan. Optimal is in the fridge but if you don’t have the room a cool, dark place will suffice. Improperly stored seeds will dramatically reduce their germination rate. Be smart, store your seeds the right way and save yourself the trouble.
If you’re like me and have lots and lots of different seeds I recommend keeping tabs in a spreadsheet. Again, a little effort up front will save ya trouble down the road.
In addition to seeds you should be thinking about soil, compost, trays, and any tools you’ll need to get started sowing indoors come January. (More about this in a later post)
- Timeline – When To Do What?
Ok, you’ve figured out what to grow and where to grow it, now you need to figure out when. Timing is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of gardening simply because of the unpredictable variables like late frosts, excessive rainfall, etc. A good gardener always plants extra and staggers chores to hedge against unforeseen issues.
Based on your Spring and Summer plans you’ll want to consult each seed packet on ideal planting times. They always include information such as “Sow indoors 8 weeks before last frost” or “Direct sow after last frost.” The packets don’t lie, follow the packets!
This guide from Southern Exposure is tremendously helpful for figuring out when to sow what. I’ll discuss timing and January gardening tasks in future posts but for now plan, plan, plan.
Garden planning is something to be enjoyed. It take several weeks to plan it all out so take your time, put on some Vulfpeck, drink a local beer, and enjoy the process.