The gnarled remains of sunbaked bean plants would like me to begin with the following disclaimer: I am not a gardening expert, nor even competent enough to consider myself a true gardener. I am, however, a gardening enthusiast with a few thoughts on how to occupy your mind with warm, sunny thoughts as snowflakes softly fall.
While it may seem strange to consider the buds of spring and vines of summer while everything outdoors is mostly varying shades of brown, January is a perfect time to start considering what to plant and where. If you are a seasoned gardener, you may already have a grand idea for what lies in store for 2022. Perhaps you know what vegetables thrived last summer, and what could benefit from a relocation. If you are a novice like me, however, you may be stumped as to how to even begin.
The Internet is full of wonderful resources for newbies and experts alike. Various websites can provide you with the exact heartiness zone your garden lies in (primarily zone 6b for most Valley folks outside of the hollers) which can help with future plans. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has an interactive map of hardiness zones that pinpoints your exact zip code if you type it into a box on the map. Being familiar with which plants thrive in your climate will help ensure lots of delicious vegetables come harvest time.
Once you’ve got your heartiness zone figured out, another helpful part of pre-planning your garden is to start a garden journal. While several fun and helpful pre-made garden journals exist out there, all one really needs is a few pieces of paper, a pencil and potentially a ruler. Everything else is just frills! Start by mapping out the area you intend to plant. You can be as meticulous or avant garde as you like. We have installed two rows of raised beds in our tiny Northern Virginia postage stamp of a yard, and I have marked them on graph paper in approximate to-scale boxes. After getting the outline complete, play around with locations for the crops you wish to grow. Think of where the sun rises and sets, and how shady your garden may get at various points in the year. Consider how close to a watering source your most thirsty plants may be, and research which plants are considered companion plants like tomatoes and basil.
Another important part of winter gardening is the day the seed catalogs arrive. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange are two catalogs that I eagerly await each year. While most of what I attempt to grow from seed rarely feels the warmth of sunbaked soil, the promise is there. Even if you do not choose to order seeds from specific companies, and perhaps instead happen to find a few packets of carrot and tomato seeds at Lowes, plotting where to put those fledgling plants is still exciting and useful come spring. If you have saved special seeds from the year before, this is a good time of year to locate said seeds and make sure they are easy to access once planting time arrives.
While it may be tempting to take advantage of a bug-free, sunny afternoon to clear last year’s husks, leaves, and dried up vines, consider leaving it until closer to the start of spring. Although it may not seem so, those decaying pieces of plant matter may be housing the sleeping larvae of future pollinators, and it is beneficial to leave them covered and protected as long as possible. Winter is a good time, however, to remove any invasive plants that have crept up in your gardens and flower beds. I
plan to tackle a vine that seems to grow back like a hydra each year.
Whether you have a tiny container herb garden barely making it through on the back porch, or acres of well-loved and fruitful soil, spending the cold and early nights of winter planning ahead is beneficial for spring planting. Much like most things in life, a little forethoughtand a lot of patience will bring forth a bountiful and delicious harvest in the months to come. Best of luck to you all, and happy gardening!