Many of us are choosing to prune the grocery bill by planting fresh produce in the backyard.
Opening up the winter seed catalogs makes you feel like a kid in a candy store. "I want five of the yellow ones, six of the pretty pink ones, and a whole bunch of the yummy red ones!" Seeing all of those goodies in one place can be overwhelming.
One really great place to find some seeds is Toledo Botanical Garden's Seed Swap. You may find half of a pack of seeds you've been wanting to try, or some heirloom seeds you haven't seen in catalogs. You can also get some great advice from the staff and Master Gardeners on hand. The seed swap will be held Feb. 27 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Ward Pavilion of Wildwood Preserve Metropark, 5100 West Central Ave.
Now is the time to do some planning. If you are a long-time vegetable gardener, consult your garden journal from last summer and start plotting changes for this spring.
If you are a new backyard farmer, you might consider raised beds for your first experience. You can build simple containers with 2-by-4s or vinyl fencing stringers. Even mounding soil on top of the ground will work. A rototiller will help you dig into the soil if you prefer the traditional method. With a bit of planning next fall, you can dig up the soil before frost sets in so you will be ready to go once the frost-free date approaches.
Pick a flat spot in your yard that gets at least six hours of sunlight. If you have been planting in the same spot for years, you might need to change the planting locations for some of your favorites. If you planted tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, or potatoes in one spot, you might want to switch them to the area where the onions, garlic, leeks, or the broccoli, cabbage, and radishes were planted last year. You will avoid having disease problems carry over from previous years and also help build soil nutrition.
Take time to draw out your garden plot on paper and sketch in the spaces you will need to grow each crop. You can get clever with your garden space by planting the peas on an inside row on a trellis; the trellis can also help to keep your tomato cages sturdy. Use your cornstalks as the trellis for green beans, or let your cucumbers and melons wind their way through the rows of cornstalks instead of taking up half of the tilled soil.
If you have never had a garden journal, now is a great time to start. This is where you should keep your plot sketches and notes of what plants did well and which ones were duds.
Take notes on when you started planting and when the fruit and vegetables started forming on the plants. Record how many packs of seeds you bought and where you bought them. That information will be handy a year from now.
A recipe box or three-ring binder make handy containers for your seeds. You can organize them by variety or by planting time. Always keep notes on the date they were planted so you can have an idea on when you will begin pull in a harvest.
The frost-free date for southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio ranges through the third week of May. Some seeds can be planted as early as six weeks ahead, so you might be planting onions, radishes, and spinach well before Jack Frost has packed it in for the summer.
Contact Kelly Heidbreder at: