LIMA — There may still be piles of snow all over the ground, but March is the perfect time to start thinking about that spring garden.
No, it’s not time to head outside to begin planting seeds. But plenty of gardeners are in the midst planning stages — and even the indoor planting stages — well before the last frost of the season.
“There are a lot of things they can start from seed now indoors, or into jugs, and prepare to be transplanted later on as gardens get warmer,” said Ed Lentz, agriculture and natural resources educator with the Hancock County Ohio State University Extension Office. “The first things you’re going to plant in a garden are called your cold crops, the things that do OK with colder temperatures once we get warmer.”
Vegetables like radishes, turnips and lettuce, for example, all do well in cool temperatures, but not so well once it gets hot. This means some seeds need to be started very soon, said John DeHaven, president of DeHaven’s in Lima.
“The seeds can take up to 21 days just to germinate — that means the seed has actually come out of the soil,” DeHaven said. “And from there, it could be another another two to three weeks before the plant is big enough to then plant. And if you think about that, that almost puts you into the end of April.”
Thinking about starting a garden this spring? Here are some key steps to take that will point you in the right direction:
1. Develop a plan.
Right now is prime time for people to be strategically preparing for a garden — whether it is looking at seeds, doing research on different types of plants, planning out the garden or measuring what you want.
“Don’t be afraid to come ask people that do this for a living because we’d be more than willing to help get you started,” DeHaven said. “Once you’ve planned out the area that you’re going to do, hopefully the weather is good by mid-March so you can get outside and you’re going to start working on the garden.”
2. Select the best spot for your garden.
“It needs to be a well-drained area,” Lentz said. “That’s probably the biggest problem people have. … You have to have an area that doesn’t stay wet to help eliminate a lot of diseases that can affect your plants and seeds.”
On the other end of the water issue, it’s important to have a hose or water source close enough to the garden, so that the gardener isn’t hauling buckets of water on a regular basis. Determining the type of soil you’ll be dealing with is also important, Lentz noted.
“If it’s a new lot in town and they’ve got pretty poor sub-soil they’re working on, they they actually want to bring in topsoil to plant into,” Lentz said. “It’s just a lot easier to work with than trying to work in the clay.”
3. Prepare the soil.
“We’re going to get the sod stripped off the area and we’re going to get the compost out then, start working the compost into my existing garden. Or maybe I’m going to stop at a store and get some bean moss and some cow manure,” DeHaven said. “Basically, we’re trying to get the area prepared. We’re amending the soil, we’re adding nutrients to the soil, and just trying to get it ready to go.”
Performing a soil test at this time can also help determine the state of the soil going into gardening season.
While a few cold-weather crops can be planted earlier, by mid-to-late-April, gardeners can really start planting, DeHaven said. By late March, even, plants like seed potatoes and onion sets can be planted.
“Generally, seed potatoes should be planted anywhere from March 17, which is St. Patrick’s Day, all the way up to Good Friday or Easter weekend,” he said. “From there, then we’re going to delve into regular vegetables — we’re planting the corn, we’re planting the beans, we’re planting the peas.”
A good rule of thumb, DeHaven said, is to plan on spending about $120 on the garden over a four-month period of time. This includes materials, seeds and fertilizer, which translates into roughly $30 per month. Investing this initial money into growing your own vegetables can potentially save your family much more in the long run.
“A family of four can save well over $1,300 in grocery costs by growing their own,” DeHaven said.
In addition to saving money on monthly grocery bills during the summer, and even in the winter with the help of canning, growing your own food brings other benefits. With gardening, a person can be in control of what goes into the food, including the type of pesticides used, if any, fertilizer, and more.
“I just think it’s healthier — for your kids, for people in general,” DeHaven said. “We’re getting fresh vegetables. Nothing better!”