Have you ever wondered what months are best to start planting a Spring vegetable garden? Maybe your have made the mistake of planting new tender seedlings in the garden to early, only to watch them die! If you want to prefect your green thumb, and not make anymore costly blunders in gardening, then this blog post is right down your alley. In the past few days here in Tennessee, we have been through half of the "Five Little Winters" of Tennessee, which I might add devastated my new vegetable seedlings! So, I've searched for people with information that could truly help, people that love to garden and I came up with the good old country farmers. I've had some deep coffee table conversations with some old farmers especially, those that enjoy gardening. This is what information I've dug up on garden size and when to plant your spring garden. To help you save time, money, and your back!!!!
Are You Planting By The Signs
I've Discussed Redbud, Dogwood, Locust, Birtches, and Blackberry Winters. Which are the cold spikes in the weather from April to June that some southern states experience known as the "Five Little Winters". I stopped every old farmer I could find, that would take a second to share their wisdom on planting. I have to say they gave me some great information on watching the weather especially here in the southern United States . The topic of the "Five Little Winters" seems very important to the farmers I spoke with, because it determines when many people plant their spring vegetable gardens much like when farmers prepare fields for seeding. This will ensure they keep cost down and the yields up as much as possible. If you have tender young seedlings much like I do each Spring, or a garden that is so large it can be considered by some gardeners, field crops. Timing and preparation is the key to turning the soil and planting seedling and seeds to ensure a great harvest.
One point the farmers I spoke with kept pointing out was, the supposed change in the weather patterns. It seems to the farmers here in Tennessee that the warmer weather last longer into cool weather months, than it has in years past giving way to a warmer Fall season. However the early Spring months now tend to have more rain fall than in years before followed by months of drier weather. This make the entire process of planting a garden more time sensitive. It was the general practice from most of the farmers I spoke with to plant their gardens when the time was correct by using the calendar. The general consensus was anytime after the second week of May would be safe to plant seedlings that where small and above the ground level outside, to avoid frost.
The topic of the change in weather patterns the farmers spoke of really sparked my curiosity. The first thing one farmer told me was watering a garden in my area of the country has become a must in late May through the early weeks of July due to the dryness of the early Summer months. Another, older farmer I spoke with made a very interesting point, here is what he said...
"The great thing about gardening especially, if you just have a small garden is you can take a water hose and ensure the plants get water at the base. It's really better than rain fall. Because you can control the water the plants get. We don't really get that luxury as farmers with large fields, here in our part of the country."
Well I must say I was taken back by his statement, a garden hose could be better than rain fall from the sky! He went a little further to explain that in the cool snaps know as the "Five Little Winters" it would be a good indicator as to how the weather would be throughout the warm weather months. He made mention that if the Black Berry vines appeared that they where going to produce a lot of canes to grow, this usually meant the Summer months would be drier. Then in turn, if it appeared that the Black Berry vines where not producing lots of canes it would be a summer with more rain.
Now personally I'm not sure that any of theses old wives tales are true! But I have to say it seemed that the old farmers knew what they was talking about. Compared to my garden which I hand watered at the first of this growing season in the drier part of the season. My tomatoes did just fine in late May and early top mid June but, later at the end of July we experienced lots of sudden burst of rain fall which caused my tomatoes to have blossom end rot and mold from improper watering cycles (I stopped hand watering!!!) The funny thing about this was that I mentioned to another old gardener what had happened. He said he too had a problem with end rot, and had used Bone Meal before planting, because he had noticed "the Black Berries where showing a dry Summer!!!!" I was blown away I had not even mention a word about Black Berries or this blog post in my conversation to the old gardener. But, he too did agree that some signs in nature where not and exact indicator of how the spring and summer growing season would be but, could give you a good idea of what to expect...
When Is It Time To Till The Garden
Now this year I believe it's time to till the ground and prepare to put my seedlings and seeds down. I personally believe, like the farmers had mentioned, anytime after the second week of May (After the 5 Little Winters in Tennessee in my area!!) is when seed needs to be sown to start growing. This year I've decided that a smaller garden is the way to go, for me that is a 30'x 30' garden spot. But, what is too big for a garden, size wise that is? I've seen it for years, someone plants a big garden. Resulting in to much work and the yield of the garden is NOT what it should be due to improper care!
I've decided that tilling my garden with a tractor this year will be my plan of attack to break ground. I have found that a tractor seems to be better at lessening the number of unwanted weeds in my garden due to the fact I can break the ground with a plow and then till the ground at a later date. Also using a tractor is much easier than tilling by hand or with hand held garden tools, because it will save your back! But, not everyone has the tractor option I just happen to be in luck and have a neighbor with a tractor.
I have found when talking to the gardeners I meet that, most people have the same issue each year. It's not tilling the ground its keeping unwanted weeds and grass out of the garden. In a garden of enormous size especially if you want to go all natural with no chemical spray to kill grass and weeds. Removing unwanted grass and weeds can become a big time consuming, labor intensive job. Weather also plays a big factor in any garden, and if growing conditions are correct you can have grass grown in your garden faster then your vegetables. And, as we all know some seeds and small established plants are not cheap, especially when your NOT buying in bulk!! I would like to add, I get my seed from Park Seed Company (Park Seed is not a sponsor yet but, I hope they will be in the future) here, is a link to their Vegetable page, Park's seed for anyone interested. I hate to see a big garden suffer due to the improper care, and many times the loss of money will make the entire process of gardening very costly, and well just not enjoyable.
The Cooner Is Cutting Corners Using The Plastic Sheeting
Now one trick that I uses here in Tennessee is to till my garden early a few times to cut down on weeds, and establish the rows of the garden, if I use rows. Then cover those rows or the flat ground with plastic sheeting or landscapers cloth. This practice of covering rows with plastic is to cut down on weed growth and too much rain due to the cold snaps. I personally use poly plastic, I did not have good results with landscapers cloth in the past. The the rain "CAN" pass through the landscapers cloth material and water the vegetables, but it resulted in weeds and grass under the landscapers cloth for me. By now, I know what your thinking landscapers cloth is much cheaper in price compared to the industrial plastic found at the supply chain stores. But, I lucked out and was given a big roll of left over garden plastic by a friend. So I want to encourage, my readers that are new to gardening to remember one very important point, which is. Look for other gardeners and farmers in your area and ask what practices work for them. Especially, what time of the year to plant, what variety of vegetables to plant, and what other cost to expect in your area such as pest, fertilizer needs, and so on.
Quick Price Examples For New Gardeners And Some Great Points To Remember
- Poly Sheeting (Planters/Farm Plastic) prices range between $32.98 -$371.81
- Seeds (Vegetables depending on type and quantity) prices range between $4.95- $6.95
- Gardening Supplies (Tomato Steak/ Cages etc.) prices range between $2.99- $47.95
- All of the above prices depends on what best fits YOUR garden needs, where you buy your supplies, and the fair market price!!
- Remember in gardening to try and look for the unexpected and plan ahead!
Reducing The Size Of My Garden And Why
I believe a ounce of prevention before starting any garden will make the process much more pleasurable and save lots of heartache in the future in any gardening plan. I really want to make sure all of my readers understand that this year my garden was much smaller only, a small 30'x30' plot, and here is why. I speculated the weather might NOT be the best this year for crops!! and, I was right!! With the amount of rain that we have had this year here in Tennessee, it was really bad for my tomatoes. The rain caused delays in ripeness and formed blight in my tomatoes very early in the growing season. Even after adding Epsom salt to give my tomatoes a little boost, there really was no good results. Now, my yield over all in the garden was not bad considering how small my garden was but, lacked a little compared to years in the past. I feel this is also is an important point to add, I helped a good friend and farmer this summer that lost about eighty tomatoes plants, due to pest!!! No matter how much we sprayed his garden, the beetles just over took everything. Yep, as far as the eye could see the entire landscape at my friends home was noting but tomato plants that where suffering from beetles eating them!!I know, my little 30'x30' garden does not really compare to my friends two ache garden, that was ruined. But, take it from the Cooner. When it comes to nature and gardening nothing is for certain, try to plan for the unexpected. My friend had problems with other types of pest in the past such as deer and lost a few plants, but nothing like the loss he suffered from the Beetles this past summer. So trying to plan for a "What If" situation is something to keep in mind when planning a victory garden. I strongly urge my new gardeners to keep in mind the list I've placed below. It is a quick set of steps for you new gardeners to consider before you start your new garden plan
Steps To Ask Yourself Before Planning A Garden If Your New To Gardening
- How much garden space do I have?
- Do I have the time and money to dedicate to start and maintain a garden?
- How will I break ground in my garden? (Do I have tools to till the soil?)
- How much work will I have with regrowth of grass and weeds in my garden, especially if the garden is large in size? ( Might take up all of your free time!)
- Will I use some form of plastic, landscapers cloth, or chemical spray to keep out unwanted weeds or grass? (If so what does each cost in my area, will one work better than the other, and what are the health concerns with using these products on my garden?)
- Lastly, Unexpected cost such as watering, pest spray, fertilizers, tomato cages, tomato stakes and sometimes trellis. (What will that cost me?)
How To Make A Garden Plan
Above is a quick layout I made from this past spring, of my garden plan. Please don't laugh!! I know its not a Van Gogh, but I would like to add a little insight on why garden layout and why a plan is so important to success of a back yard gardener. If you notice on the layout I have three large trees to the East of my garden, that block the sun in the morning from my vegetables. This is a very important aspect to consider when choosing the location of your garden. A point to keep in mind, for you new gardeners (What time of day does your garden get light or lose light?) I suggest for those of you that are new to gardening, go out at different times of the day and take a look at the spot you have chosen for your new garden and see when the light patterns change (Keep in mind a vegetable plant growing in the ground can NOT be moved as easily as a house plant in a hanging basket). Ask yourself if you might have other factors involved that might effect your garden layout due to sun lighting conditions (In my case its Chestnut trees which I might add drop sharp Chestnut hulls at the end of my gardens summer growing cycle!)
Usually for the first four hours after sunrise my garden lacks sufficient light. This has caused problems in the past because, it keeps the ground a little to moist in my garden in the early parts of spring!!! But, in the later parts of the growing season, it is o.k. because in my area of Tennessee the afternoon sun burns bright until about 9:00 p.m. each night. Which, can be a danger if you water the garden to early in the afternoon! The water droplets on the leaves of the vegetables act as small magnifying glasses and burn the leaves.
If you notice I also have backyard chickens which I've mentioned in other blogs and a fire pit. These are both important points to remember also. I use natural fertilizer and I also use wood ash/ pot ash in my garden but, those are both topics I will cover later in separate blog post. Now keeping in mind that my garden this spring was much smaller only 30'x30'. You can see the areas where I used poly plastic to stop grass from growing. If you notice around all Tomatoes, Peppers, Beans, Peas, and Okra I have plastic under the plants. With two rows of each kind of plant not to mention the melon's and potatoes I did NOT use plastic under. Now, the amount of grass I still had to remove from my garden was enough to make my garden a full time job all summer long. So, I'm not saying that plastics is a cure all for issues with grass growing around your veggies, but it does greatly reduce the amount of work and pest associated with a garden. Also, poly plastic can help you find some fresh veggies that drop from the plant that other times gardeners miss sometimes due to plant spacing and plat size it will obstruct your view, tomatoes are the worlds worst!!
Now I know by this point that some of my older gardeners have looked at my gardening layout and said "Wait Conner, Why do you have Bell peppers in between Tomatoes and Pole Beans?" In a 30'x30' foot garden that would mean the shorter plants are in the middle of the garden!! Yep, you older gardeners saw that correctly, I placed the small plants in the middle of the garden and here is why. Remember the old farmers I spoke with before writing this post. One of them mentioned something that lots of gardeners over look, Wind... That's right if you could see the landscape/layout of my yard you would all understand that to the west of my garden there is nothing but fields that I get all of the run off water from, and when my area of the country is experiencing 80 MPH winds, like we have in the past few spring and summer months. Some smaller plants in my garden have been up rooted due to those two problems! I hope with my garden plan that it sheds a little light as to how you can used available space and factors such as weather patterns and light conditions to ensure all of you reading can get maximum yield from your garden with the least amount of work this coming spring, to save your back!!
Crop Rotation This brings me to my last point on why I want my new gardeners to take a second and draw out a garden plan. Crop rotation is very important to not only save you money in a garden by costing less money in fertilizer. But, also is healthier for the plants and the soil. Crop rotation keeps the nutrients in the soil from being completely depleted by planting the same crops in the same garden spot each year. When drawing out a garden layout you can keep the drawing until the next growing season and make sure your vegetables are grown in different locations. Now I'm not saying you will forget where the pole beans where planted but, with a physical drawing you can make sure to remember.
Sadly, this blog post has come to and end. I hope that all my readers now, have a better understanding of when to start plating your gardens by looking at weather patterns and the signs from the season changing in your area. Maybe you have acquired some new information on what to expect when maintaining a larger garden and options on how to rid yourself of weeds and unwanted grass around you new seedlings. If you like this post make sure to look around the rest of the Crockett Coonhound website, we have lots to see. If you want to stay up to speed on the newest post and everything going on here at the Crockett Coonhound make sure to sign up for our newsletter. Please feel free to leave us a review we love to hear from our readers. Lastly, if you are checking out the old inner webs make sure to look for me The Crockett Cooner and The Crockett Coonhound on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Thank you all again for reading, I hope you have a great day and even better tomorrow.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there different types of ground covering to put in your garden?
Yes, just because the old Cooner here uses the plastic sheeting doesn't mean that's all a person can use to control unwanted weeds and grass. May people use landscapers cloth or clear plastic sheeting to allow sunlight or water to pass through the covering to get to the soil.
Can the times of the season differ for tilling your garden?
Yes, In different parts of the country depending on what planting zone your located in and your weather conditions you times for tilling will change. (*Side Note: I'm in Hardiness zone 7a & 7b for planting.)
Is the time for planting cool weather vegetables and herbs, always the same as what I have mentioned in the post?
No, much like the hardiness zones planting vegetables such as iceberg lettuce and herbs such as mint, oregano, and rosemary. The times of tilling and planting will differ in different zones and the original planting dates will be much earlier than the second week of May in my area of the county.
♳ Are their drawback to using plastic ground covering in your garden?
Yes, any form of ground covering will limit the amount or rain fall and water from hand watering in the entire garden. (Side Note: Some types of vegetables will not thrive in a garden with plastic covering. Plastics can sometimes cause mold and rot in some vegetables and crops. Also, plastics ground cover can keep the soil at the plants roots to loose and cause your plants to up root in heavy wind and rain.)