The birds are out flitting about today, a light breeze rustling thru the leaves and creating gentle waves on the lake – it is so good to see the lake thawed again! In the background, the rooster crows while squirrel scutter about. January thaw always feels so good! I just soak up the sunshine like a turtle on a log. It makes me excited for Spring as I see little green shoots trying to pop up through the leaves. It’s too early though! Winter has only just begun. As much as I want to dig in the dirt and encourage little baby plants, it’s not time yet. Soon, after a few more weeks of cold and snow, the ground will be ready, and it will be time to plant. But for now, we will have to plan. Now is the time to prepare: let the garden beds revitalize while we draw out our plans, buy seeds and prepare for the next season.
It’s a slower time of year great for cozy fires, warm stews, and a break in the gardening chores. Although I love gardening, I appreciate these slower times of year because they give me a much-needed opportunity to make some plans for next year’s garden.
Keeping a Garden Journal is the best gardening resource to save time and money year after year, plus it’s just so fun! Yes, spoken like a true geek, I truly enjoy getting out the pencils and seed catalogs and sketching out my garden plans. It gives me something to do and something to look forward to as I draw out my beds and review my plans.
You see a good garden takes a few years to establish, especially if you are working on a true permaculture garden or self-sustainable homestead. We have been working on converting an area of our yard that was formerly a playground into a classic cottage garden (aka my kind of playground!). This, of course, is a 5-10 year plan, although I wish it would fill in immediately patience is needed to work the soil and build a micro ecozone. My garden journal holds helpful notes that we will use in planning this year’s herb and vegetable beds, and includes information on what was successful in the garden and what could use some tweaking.
Whether you are starting out large or small, planning helps a tremendous amount.
Homesteads come in many forms and styles these days. Some homesteaders have acres of land to play with (and maintain), while urban homesteaders are challenged and creative in smaller spaces. The steps you take to start a homestead will depend on your goals, and what you can do within your budget, free time, climate, availability of local resources, and so on.
Unfortunately, I can’t provide an exact formula to start a homestead that will work for every budding homesteader. However, I hope this article will give you some good ideas and inspiration, and most importantly, help you get the garden started. It doesn’t matter how big or small your project, just get it going. You can always build on it from there or scale back if things get out of hand.
Keeping that in mind, let’s see if we can help you better wrap your head around how to get started on planning your perfect garden.
Start the new year off by initiating a gardening journal if you don’t have one already. Use the journal to keep track of the perennial favorites, harvests, weather and sun conditions, and what worked and didn’t work for you, as well as what you like to add on in the future.
Planning your garden and landscape
Think of your garden beds as blank canvases and envision the lush landscape you can create. It’s a whole new year, after all, and that means that the possibilities are endless for your home gardens.
Begin with evaluating your area. Every property will come with its unique strengths and challenges.
When planning for your homestead, or developing a permaculture plan, you will want to learn the natural light exposure and how it changes over the seasons as well as what areas are full sun versus shade areas. Which direction does the house face? How do the shadows fall from the trees, sheds, etc.
Is it a wooded property with plenty of trees providing shade and wind break? Or an open yard? Notice if the ground is rocky, sandy or grass, perhaps meadow or native grasses? Does it slope gently, have a steep grade, or flatten out? These will be important features to note when planning your homestead, farm, or garden. Even if you do not plan to do more than a few raised garden beds, it will still be good to note where leaves will pile up in the yard, where critters shelter, dog and play areas vs garden or native areas, and how the rain falls and collects (which will be useful for water catchment and irrigation).
If you are planning a new garden space or are trying your hand at gardening for the first time, you may consider raised garden beds or container gardening. Looking to start a homestead, learn about permaculture gardening or build a classic cottage garden? This is a great time to research different methods, peruse through gardening books or check out Pinterest for some great inspiration. There’s so much to learn about preparing garden beds, amending soil, extending your garden season by growing different plants at varying times, and incorporating native species. In your planning, also look at adding in cold frames, lean-tos, or other smaller structures to keep your plants protected for expected and unexpected weather changes.
Sketch out a master garden design plan
Grab a blank sheet of paper, graph paper, or this handy Garden Design Worksheet, a ruler and a pencil – or better yet colored pencils! Now go to town drawing out new garden beds, bed extensions, and garden features. Be sure to make notes of where existing trees and other structures are, how the sun rises and sets, and any other information that will help you plan.
Draw out how large your garden bed will be, or at least the basic shapes, and where plants will go. So many possibilities! Containers, raised beds, and in the ground are all possibilities. Mix and match to your heart’s content. Get creative and try some herb garden mixtures – check out this article for DIY herb gardens. Remember you may need structures and trellises for your climbing plants such as beans and peas. Consider crop rotation in your design plans as well to keep your soil nice and healthy.
Embrace the possibilities for this year’s gardens and decide what you’d like to add to your upcoming gardens.
Make a list of plants and seeds on hand and those you will need to obtain. Click here for a shopping list worksheet. This will help you keep track of what you need to purchase, what you have, and when they get planted in the garden.
In your planning, also look at adding in cold frames, lean-tos, or other smaller structures to keep your plants protected for expected and unexpected weather changes.
Keeping a Garden Journal
Notes are useful not just for planning, but also keeping track of your garden and its bounty.
Chart the seed and plant varieties for your grow zone. Take a note of their planting requirements, germination, and maturity periods, and keep notes about what worked well and what did not. This will help you plan from year to year with knowing when to sow seeds, how to plant with optimal spacing, when you can expect blooms, and when to harvest your plants.
Consider crop rotation in your garden as well to keep your soil nice and healthy. Charting out your garden beds each year will help you keep tabs on where to plant the following year’s crops. You think you can remember, but trust me, you can’t. Lots can happen in a 6–7-month time stretch. It’s much easier to keep notes and refer back to them than to second guess it. It’s also a great way to compare your gardens from year-to-year and see how they’ve evolved.
In the winter when I am planning my spring garden, I take out my Garden Journal and go through the notes. This makes it easy-peasy to plan vegetable beds and where I want to fill in spaces or add on to garden beds. I am really interested in starting a cutting flower garden this year, so useful notes on flowers I want to try get clipped out and added to my journal. When sitting on the couch watching the snow fall down, like today, I pulled out my journal and dream about my summer garden!
Winter is a prime time to clean and organize your stock of seed-starting materials. Ensure that you have plenty of seed starting mix, grow trays, warming mats, grow lights, and organize your stock of seed packets. Make a note of what you have and what you need to order from those treasured seed catalogs.
Not only are gardeners squirreling away ideas for upcoming gardens, but they are also stocking up on supplies. Consider adding arches or building trellises for climbing plants and to add height to the garden. Perhaps you’d like to add in cold frames or row covers this year to extend the garden season. Many gardening suppliers have great winter sales on supplies, and of course the seed catalogs are full of useful gadgets you suddenly realized you need. Put together a wish list so when you make the Lowe’s or Home Depot trip you don’t get too carried away with all the good deals. (I’ll take one of everything!) Download my Garden Shopping List here.
Now it’s great that you have a plan written down. You can either start it going with indoor seed-sprouting or wait until spring to dig in!!
It is the perfect time of year to get a head start on some indoor seed-starting for those plants that have lengthy germination and maturation periods. If you love your greens, sow seeds in an indoor planter and place them in a sunny spot for a lovely indoor harvesting. Use this seed starting worksheet to keep track of the little seedlings.
Click here to download any or all of my Garden Worksheets
Garden Layout Design Worksheet
Plant Inventory/ Shopping List
Seed Starting Tracker
Print out each sheet and put them in a binder or folder and you’ll be able to refer to your notes each season, have a good plan in place and be ready to go come planting time.