Soil Testing - This is an important step for building a new garden or upkeeping an existing one. Soil tests reveal the amount of nutrients and pollutants that are in the soil. Unfortunately, these things cannot be seen to the naked eye. So testing at the beginning of a new garden, and then every 3 years after will suffice in knowing the bed has no harmful chemicals and help identify which soil amendments you may need. And so, when testing your soil, you should always test before you make any adjustments to the soil, that way you don't waste any money. You will always need nitrogen fixers like compost and cover crop, because nitrogen leaves the soil within the season. But, you may need more on that depending on what you grow and what nutrients they take up within a season. Best practice is to do the soil test at the beginning of the season (early March), and send to soil testing labs like UMASS to have checked.
Seed starting - This is a great option for those that are eager to get into the garden before the winter weather leaves us. There are many plants that do well starting in a seed tray. You will need to refer to the back of your seed packet to make sure your variety will have a permanent home once it outgrows its seed tray space (i.e. will the weather be warm enough for cold weather crops to come through?) Seed starting is also helpful for moving plants along with limited space. You can start new plants as older ones finish up for harvest.
Spring Clean-up - This should happen in late April (dependent on weather and season extension plans of course). Be mindful that natural fall/winter mulching from straw or leaves may be protecting perennials that require some sort of protection from the early spring elements, remove with care. So be sure to not clear too much away. Spending a weekend to clean and get organized will bring a lot of clarity for your gardening plans this year. If you did not add compost to your soil back in the fall, this is the second best time to add nutrients to the soil and keep the microbes alive.
Fertilized - Compost additions to the garden are important to add as you put your garden to bed for the winter. That way, the compost has plenty of time to feed the soil and make it viable for next year's plantings. It is important that beyond basic nitrogen fixing, that you use your soil tests as a guide to knowing what you may need. Simple at home tests can elude to information necessary for other nutrient additions. There's no sense in adding nutrients and fertilizers blindly.
What should I plant? For a healthy, biodiverse garden, it's important to plant some of the following categories: natives, pollinator friendly, and perennials. It's also important to vary lifespan heights and seasonal colors into the design plan. From here, the question 'what should I plant?", becomes a lot more individualized. At this point, focus on identifying your goals of maintenance frequency and whether you want to grow more food or more ornamentals.
Where should I plant? - It's true that every plant is the right plant, it just might not be in the right place. Specific things to consider are: what type of light does the site get - sun, part-sun/ part-shade, shade; does the garden drain well (different plants require different drainage speeds), does the bed have exposure to the elements like driveway salt or pool chemicals, the pH of the soil (a good example is that blueberries thrive in very acidic soil, while many others need soil closer to 7 on the pH scale.
Should I build a raised bed? - This is a question you can answer after your soil test. If cleaning up the soil on the site seems near to impossible after reading the test results, a raised bed is imperative for growing in this space. Height of the raised bed does matter, and is in relationship to the things you want to grow. Different plants have different root depths. Knowing these is imperative in keeping your food super clean. Remember that the higher they are, the more soil you will need to fill (and that can get pricey).
When should I plant? - Utilize the back of the seed packet as your guide. Buying seeds in February/ March along with building a crop plan around the space you have allotted is a great start. Weather is the biggest indicator of when you should choose to plant. With climate change, it is getting harder to anticipate a specific date that works best over others. Stay tuned to the true signs of spring, and then plant.
Season Extension - Want to grow in the colder months? In New England, there are plenty of plants that thrive in the early spring and fall/ winter. Soil temperature and light are the most important things in growing in the shoulder months. Options like greenhouses, hoop houses, and row cover all supply the soil temperature protection to some degree. If growing outside, there is enough light in those months for cold weather crops; if in a greenhouse, additional lighting options can be pricey, but there are inexpensive options for small vegetable production at home.
Putting your garden to bed for winter - This is an important step in consistent gardening. When you put the ground to bed, you give it all the things it will need to make it through the winter to restore, rejuvenate and nourish itself. Make sure to include laying out compost, planting nitrogen fixers like clover and winter rye, covering the bed with straw or leaves(after the nitrogen fixers have had time to grow), and watering the ground until it is completely frozen. The last part is good to remember: our soil is living and needs water regardless of which plants are alive, luckily, our fall weather is wet and won't require much hand watering. Just pay attention to the seasonal changes.