Whether you are a well seasoned owner of a green thumb or a new gardener all together, planning the summer garden in spring is the best time to start. Prepare your land, plan your layout, and start your summer seeds this season and enjoy the bountiful harvest to come! And the best part you don’t even need a green house. 5+ acres, or grow lights to accomplish it!
March days give way to the first breath of spring, and with that comes a new longing to begin the spring garden once again. Spring days look a little different depending on where you live. Perhaps, the snow is just now beginning to melt off the evergreens and the soil is still partially frozen from its winter sleep. Or maybe your yard is already buzzing with life– as it does most of the year. But here in Tennessee, we get all four seasons– sometimes all in the same day! This March has brought some cold fronts, some snowflakes, some days spent running through sprinklers, but most importantly, buds and blooms. Dandelions, Purple Deadnettles, and Daffodils grow in patches lining roadsides, yards, and pastures in every direction. This is my favorite time of year– when the robin sings and the Earth bursts into full bloom after the long and dreary winter!
When is the best time to start planning a summer garden?
Now that the days are getting longer, the time has finally come to begin the growing season once again. I love- I mean I genuinely love- growing anything from seed! Walking barefoot through rows and rows of fresh vegetables and flowers that you have watered, weeded, and tended every step of the way is some of the most pure worship on this side of Heaven. Nothing draws you to the Creator quite like admiring his Creation, and our God is one incredible artist!
Here in Tennessee, (and I’m sure for many other states) we will continue to get late frosts up until the end of April and possibly even into the beginning of May. It is not time yet to turn the Earth and sow directly into her soil with all of our plants, but it is time to prepare. Spring is the perfect time to simply begin!
Late February and early March is the ideal time to start planning the summer garden. Especially if you plan to special order your seeds from a catalog or online store! Two of my personal favorites are Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds and MIGardener. Where do you plan to place your garden? Are you turning over part of your yard? Or sticking with pots or a small planter? Vertical planters may also be a good option if you are short on space!
These are the kinds of plans you will want to lay out now to ensure you are ready when your last frost date passes. You can find an estimated date for the last frost in your area here.
This may also be a perfect time to begin starting seeds indoors- more on that down below!
Planning the Summer Garden in the Spring
It seems a little out of place to start planning the tomato harvest before the snow is fully gone from the roadways. But really, this is the ideal time to start. It may be May before your seedlings take up residence in the tight rows of the garden, but the plants that bud in July begin in March.
Where to Start Planning
Now is the perfect time to plan out the lay out of your garden, landscaping, or planter.
Learn what plants go together and which plants are best to space apart. Jalapeños, for example, will often lend heat to things planted nearby. (Spicy Creamed Corn, anyone?)
Or perhaps now is the perfect time to decide if you want to plant your first garden!
It doesn’t have to be beautiful or enough to feed your family for the next year. And you don’t need five acres to enjoy the bounty that can come from your own backyard. You simply need a seed, a little dirt, water, and plenty of sunshine– and voila— you will be amazed at what a little patience can grow! We started with a small planter of radishes, carrots, lettuces, and cherry tomatoes our first year has grown more ambitious every year since!
What should you grow in your garden?
This year we decided to focus more on the main things that we eat or the things we will most utilize. We began by planning ahead for what we hope to preserve. Our main focus this year is to restock our pantry on tomatoes (mainly spaghetti sauce and tomato paste), cucumbers (We all love pickles and last year’s jars were eaten in no time), cabbages(sauerkraut), green peppers (cut, roasted, and frozen), and zucchini (makes great relish and breads). Okra, jalapeños, assorted squash, and cut flowers will hopefully fill our garden this summer, but at the moment our soil is still to cold and the frost risk too high for most outdoor plants. This is where the indoor sowing comes in.
Starting Seeds Indoors
For those precious plants too gentle to withstand a frost and yet so patient you would be waiting for fruit well into September, starting seeds indoors is the best option. You don’t need a greenhouse, just a sunny window! Tomatoes and green pepper plants in particular take a while to get growing, so starting them indoors is a great way to begin. (Note: you can always buy tomato or green pepper plants from a nursery to plant directly into your garden after the final frost, but seeds are generally the cheaper option.)
On warm days plants can be transported outside to learn to brave the elements. This process is called ‘hardening off’ and it is best to allow your plants to undergo a few days outside before their final move into your garden when summer comes to stay. Our window sills right now are housing roughly 36 tomato plants (Roma and Heirloom) as well as herbs (mint, rosemary, dill, cilantro, sage, basil, and thyme). We also have pots of Calendula, Echinacea, and Chamomile that will grace our spotty landscaping in our backyard.
The majority of seeds should begin inside or be sown directly into the ground after the final frost, but there are a few that are not only frost tolerant, but actually seem to enjoy the cooler temperatures. Root vegetables for example. Radishes, carrots, and parsnips are already sown in our planter! Leafy greens can also be sown before the final frost. Spinach, kale, and romaine, as well as, peas, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and onions can all be planted about six weeks before the last frost date. For more information on your area, and the best days to plant, consult the farmer’s almanac!
How to Plant Seeds
Each seed is different, just like each plant it will produce.
Some seeds desire close proximity, while others need more space. Some prefer to be placed deeper into the soil while others require only about a pencil eraser worth of depth.
So how can you know when and how to plant each specific seed? The answer is on your pack of seeds! Most seed packs come with an overview of the plant process: depth, spacing, thinning, as well as proper planting times!
If your seed pack does not have the information on it (or if your kid- like Ivy Jo- accidentally pours water on the back and the information is no longer legible) the Farmer’s Almanac or Google is your best friend! (Note: when using Google make sure the directions are for your growing zone. It also doesn’t hurt to check two or three different sites to ensure the information you are getting is correct.)
This year we are experimenting with a few newbies to our garden collection. Last year we grew basic summer squash and while we enjoyed it- especially watching the little bees pollinate the bright yellow flowers each morning- we really wanted to try more this year. Our kids love squash, particularly butternut and spaghetti squash, so we decided to test it out. Though you can begin squash indoors, I personally wouldn’t recommend it. In the past, ours has gotten blooms before the weather is warm enough to transplant it into the garden around natural pollinators. We have heard that spaghetti squash is hard to tame and happily takes over everything- but we will see how it goes! (Feel free to leave us your best tips for growing in the comments!)
Cabbage is another newbie to our beginner homestead, but what is more beautiful than giant cabbage leaves!
The biggest experiment for us this year though is actually with our herbs and flowers. Some of these we have grown before and some are entirely new, but we plan to attempt our own herbal teas, herbal remedies, and medicinal herbs.
What else is growing this Spring?
Well, we didn’t start these little guys from seeds, but this is our first year raising chicks. We have always purchased our chickens as adults in the past, but this year we went all in and bought 10 baby chicks (seven pullets and three straight run). So we possibly have a rooster or two as well. They make a great project for homeschool as well as another step in the homesteading direction!
Getting Our Arrows Involved
The best part about the homesteading dream is that it is a family affair. Rafael (who is incredible at drawing up plans and then bringing them to life) has spent the past month building a new chicken coop after a tree fell on the last one. (No chickens were injured, thankfully.) Our baby chicks still have a while before they are ready to leave their rabbit cage and heat lamp but nevertheless they will have a beautiful home to move in to when the time comes. (Hopefully it will be finished in the next week or two.)
As for the kids– chickens, seeds, and yard work require a lot of hands, and they are always happy to help. They have morning chores of feeding the dog, the cat, and the chickens as well as making their beds and cleaning up in the house. They love checking the plants each day and cheering as each new seedling lifts its head above the dirt to wave hello. We’ve also planted plenty of microgreens in the playroom– they don’t require nearly as much patience and there is nothing quite like running your fingers through a small patch of microgreens between math and handwriting!
So here’s to the beautiful season ahead. I encourage you to grow something! Maybe it is a seed, maybe it is more of a spiritual growth, or personal growth by embracing something you have always wanted to do, or maybe it is the most precious of all and you are growing a small baby and anticipating its arrival much like the warmth of spring. Whatever you are growing, do it in patience and good faith, knowing that just like planting a seed– you are planting hope for what is to come.
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and Happy Aiming!
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