October slips in. The temperature lowers, and quickly we lose daylight on both sides. Summer crops are done and it’s easy to go hibernate for the long winter. Or….maybe you don’t have a garden yet.
And I am here to tell you to not hibernate yet. It’s not time to go to sleep yet. Do the work now, while the ground is warm, but the air is cool. If you do it now, in October, come the first of March you will be ready to go.
The need to be self-sufficient grows by the day. You must not let your guard down. It doesn’t matter if you live in an apartment, or on acreage. You can, and MUST grow something. Even if it is a few pots. Below are topics to get you started on.
Your grow zone: It is the engine of gardening. By understanding it, you will know when the first and last frosts usually occur. What kind of weather to expect in summer. The highs and lows, which determine if you have a long enough season, or that plants will survive the winter. See here for the USDA maps to determine your zone.
How much daylight: That you receive all year. Learning what is in the shade during the day. Not only in summer, but all year. For example, one bed of ours, is in the sun only in the morning from September to April. This causes grow issues for fall crops.
16 hours a day at the Summer Solstice in Late June has plants primed to grow.
But in late December not much is growing without artificial lighting, though with greenhouses you can still have some things growing, but it depends on how North your land is.
Choose your location: If you have land to grow food on, be it raised or in ground beds, there are considerations. If you live in town, and in an HOA, you will most likely need to grow in the backyard. The less eyes that see your garden, the better. One can hide edible plants in front yards (blueberries are a great example). If you live more rural, you will need to consider fencing to keep out deer, elk, rabbits and so on. The second is figuring out the sunniest areas in your yard, if in town. Fences can help extend warm weather crops, as they reflect heat back. If you have ample land you will want your garden area(s) to be well drained, away from acidic trees (evergreen trees) and to receive ample sun.
Being near a water source: One issue when we started over at our homestead here is we had a lack of water. We were farming down low, and there was no water hydrants at all down there. The nearest water was over 2 acres away, at the house. We had 800 feet of rubber hose I had to move around daily. 2 years ago we got water hydrants installed all over the land – and it is a huge difference I can tell you. It freed up my days.
Planning the Garden: This is figuring out do you want raised beds? In ground beds? Pots? It also is determining how much square footage you need.
How much to grow: We recently wrote a piece on how much to grow per person in your garden. This will help you figure out how many seeds and plants you need to acquire.
What to grow: It’s this simple – grow what you like to eat. If you hate kale and you don’t have animals to feed it to, don’t grow it! But also, grow things that cost the most. For example, dual season red raspberries is a great investment, as raspberries are always expensive in stores. Where as potatoes are not (though they are worth growing for the taste, but you get my point). Those with less space will need to really think it out.
Harvesting: Learn to know what is ready. You don’t want to grow food, and then have it rot on the vine.
Preserving: Learn to can and dehydrate food. Read up on how to cure garlic and onions for long term storage. See here for all the posts.
Buying Supplies: Growing a garden isn’t as simple as running a tiller over land, though that does make life easier. Having basic tools on hand now will make it much easier. A shovel, a hoe, a good garden rake. Gloves. Tarps to kill off weeds and grass naturally (yes, you can buy high end farming silage tarps, or you can buy cheap ones from Harbor Freight as well). If you have the back for it, you can do everything by hand. We use our BCS tractor to only break new land open, to kick up the rocks. After that, and the rows are shaped, we don’t use the tractor anymore. Our land, being on an island is hard often, filled with rocks. Once opened up, the land can be made better.
Once you have it all in your mind and plotted out, it is time to get to work.
Mark out where you want to do it, be it on paper, or better, on the ground.
If you are doing raised beds you will want to lay down a very thick layer of cardboard (remove all tape) to kill the grass/weeds so they don’t grow up. Be sure to do 4 layers or more thick. Plain is best versus colored. After that, assemble your raised beds however you are doing it, and get them filled with soil. Then you are done! If concerned about weeds starting from blown seeds, you can cover each bed with a tarp over the winter. This will also keep the beds drier from winter rains. (See here for articles on all the raised beds we have built over the years)
If you are doing in ground, mow the land if needed (or weed whack), then till the land now, pull out rocks you bring up. After you till, let the land sit for a week or so, so seeds can germinate, then cover with a tarp to kill the seeds. You will want to weight it down heavily on the edges (bricks, sand bags and such). Black or dark colors is best. You will leave the tarps on over the winter and pull back as the light returns in March so you can shape the land into beds.
In late winter/early spring we shape the beds in ground, with a walk way between each bed. Then we put an inch of well-aged compost on each row. For weed suppression, we do a thick layer of wood chips down the walk ways.
Pull any weeds that it through the winter.
And then…it’s time to plant. And it is Spring, and 5 months have slipped by.
By January you will want your seeds in front of you. It won’t be time to grow yet, but don’t wait. Seeds for the most part can last many years if stored in a dry/cool environment. You might lose some germination, but overall seeds want to grow, and will. But keep track of what you have and order what you don’t. And don’t think of just spring crops – think about what you will plant multiple times, and what you might plant in late summer for fall.
Find out if there will be a seed swap nearby, and join in. You might get seeds you didn’t know existed!
Starting plants in pots is a good start. Tip: While I buy my 4″ pots often on Amazon, if you have a Dollar Tree nearby, look in late Winter and they often sell them in 10 packs for a $1. They last multiple years if you are gentle on them and store them inside when not in use.
Wondering when to plant? See here for when to plant seeds in grow zone 8b.
Have a potting area that is dedicated. It can be out or inside. I keep mine outside, because space but also mess control. Mine sits in the orchard. I store our pots nearby for ease in it.
We use popup/portable greenhouses often (though we have a dedicated real greenhouse as well). This allows us to grow a LOT of starts in the early months. Enough to protect at night, and to keep animals out – and out chickens I might add. I take the covers off and store so they don’t get UV damage until needed. The key is you must weight them down (see the heavy paver stones?) and we attach them with zip ties to the fence behind. Keep them zipped tightly if wind is predicted and they last. But always weigh the frame down!
Until Spring…stay busy and get those dreams going.