by Gere Camper, from Hopkins County Master Gardeners
The weather outside may be frightful, but there is still a lot that can be done now to ensure a successful garden this year. A cold rainy day is a great time go through seed catalogs whether online or catalogs and decide what to grow. It’s always nice to add a new vegetable or flower or maybe a new variety such an heirloom tomato. It is important to select plants that are acclimated to the local hardiness zone which is 8A for Hopkins County. You can also find lists of good varieties at agrilifeextension.tamu.edu. When you know what you want to plant you can order your seeds or make a shopping list of transplants.
Some vegetables like radish or carrots will be directly seeded into the garden. Check the link above to find the recommended planting date and schedule a reminder on your calendar. Other plants like tomatoes and peppers are started from seed and then transplanted into the garden. You can determine how long it will take for the seeds to germinate and grew large enough to transplant by checking the seed packet or looking online. Subtract that time from the date to plant outside and you will know when to start the seeds and can schedule that date in your calendar. Transplants can also be bought locally at many locations if you don’t want to start your own.
You have determined what you are going to plant and when you will plant it and have scheduled the dates. The next winter chore is to decide where to plant. If you have an existing garden, rotate this year’s plants to a different area than last years. If the same types of plants go back into the same area, there is a chance that disease pathogens and fungal spores and pests or pest eggs will still be in the soil in that area. If you rotate your crops every year you are less likely to have a recurring disease and pest problems. Make a chart of what is planted where. This can be done in Excel or a similar program or on graph paper. This will help you plan next year’s crop rotation.
If you don’t already have a garden, it’s time to choose a spot for one. The garden spot should be sunny. Don’t forget that trees will put on leaves and the shade patterns will change. Try for at least eight hours of sun. Also look for an area with good drainage. The recent rains will let you know which areas drain well. If you still have standing water after a few sunny days, you will have trouble later. A soil test will also be helpful for either an existing or a new garden. The Hopkins County AgriLife Extension Office has test kits available. They are very simple to complete and send in and the results are usually ready in just a few weeks. The test will quickly pay for itself by ensuring that your plants get the nutrients they need to grow their best, and also by keeping you from buying and using fertilizers and supplements that your soil already has in sufficient quantities.
All of these chores can be finished now while it is too wet and cold to be working outside in your garden. Just looking at the pictures in a seed catalog will renew the desire to dig in the soil and smell the budding tomatoes plants. If you have any gardening questions contact any Hopkins County Master Gardener or the Hopkins County Extension Agent, Mario Villarino. Better yet, come to a Master Garden meeting at the Extension Office. The office manager there will have the details and any interested person is welcome. Growing your own food is good for your soul and eating fresh locally grown food is good for your body.