A DASH of Gardening: January Yard and Garden Prep

How to prepare your garden for a productive growing season in January. Including my successive garden What I’m doing this year for January Yard & Garden Prep. Plenty of ideas to prepare your garden for a productive growing season in January, including my successive garden plans. 

January

January has generally not been my favorite month.  A couple years ago, before the whole pandemic started, I remember sitting in a conference room in downtown Seattle with a coworker and he remarked at how much he couldn’t wait for January to be over (little did we know then what was coming).  At the time, I looked at him and thought Yeah! What is with this month?

If anyone in the Pacific Northwest recalls, January 2020 was abysmal.  It rained every. Single. Day.  It was dark and gloomy, and we were just starting to hear the chatter about this weird virus in China.  I was completely overwhelmed trying to manage the responsibilities at work that continued getting piled on without extra resources. I told myself I just had to get through January.  I just had to survive January. Survive January and it will start getting better because days will get longer and warmer, construction projects would start making more significant headway, and as summer set in there would be that sudden lull in the constant churn of business as the heat lures all of us outdoors and away from the office cubicles. Or so I thought. I’d make next January better…

January 2021 comes around, and I’m on medical leave because I can’t stop throwing up.  I had finally had another ultrasound and was now getting scheduled for a follow up appointment with a urologist to discuss removing a kidney stone and what I needed to do about these cysts on my kidneys.  It felt lovely to have the stress of the churn removed via being on medical leave, but it was also scary and like more ominous signs that my overall health was continuing to deteriorate.  So, I decided to distract myself and start planting early.  I had some plants growing that seemed happy, why not start some plants in January?  Not only did it make January a whole lot better for me emotionally to have these little seedlings, but I had an excellent early spring crop of beans, peas, and collards among other things.

So here we are two years later.  Back in the office again after a year of suffering from cabin fever, but still masked, and anxious from everyone getting sick, still dealing with the chronic illnesses and their weird side effects that I have to live with every day, and most of the same churn and rain that dragged down every other January before.  However, it doesn’t seem so bad this year despite the added anxieties and illness burden.  I’m living in a new house, and I have a new garden bed that I get to plan.  I have a new yard to explore and help care for.  This the new year, when things start over, and when you get to give it every effort to make it better than the last and I’ve got big goals to make this year even better than the year before – starting with the garden.

How to Plan a New Vegetable Garden

What does this mean?  It means first and foremost; I needed to use the time I’m trapped inside watching the snow and ice and rain dump outside working on researching and planning for the new growing year.  There were a few things I was going to have to deal with first if I was going to make this growing year as successful as I could:

  1. Evaluate the property around the house to understand the sun exposure of the property, soil condition, and existing plants. 
  2. Plan to protect against a multitude of pests.  I was unfamiliar with all the local wildlife, except the bunnies, mice, squirrels, and moles that have already made their presence known in the garden and were also my frenemies in West Seattle.
  3. Identify ways that I could through planning and planting strategy minimize day to day maintenance for myself since I’m not the most mobile every day.

Easy Garden Evaluations

On my own, there are only so many things about the house I’m living in right now without engaging a lab or a professional.  The most basic of which, with the highest impact on my garden plans this year are:

  • Evaluate the amount of available light around the year to understand what types of things can be planted where using a solar path tracking app on my phone, (or Google Earth with the 3D and buildings and shadows turned on when that app decides to stop working because it needs to update 😉)
  • Test the soil by mixing some soil and water together and allowing it to settle to understand the composition, as well as test the ph of the soil around the house so I can understand how it changes and if there are any amendments needed.
  • Measure the available space where I intend to plant vegetables so that I can assess how much growing space I have to work with.
Soil mix test
Mixing soil with water in a glass and watching how it settles is a good way to understand what type of soil mix you have in the garden. I let mine sit for a day and a half in total to get as much of the debris to separate out as I could. This is about an hour after I first mixed these soil cups up.

Strategies for a Productive Kitchen Garden

To make things even easier for myself, I opted to use similar strategies for planning my vegetable garden as I did last year and not try to introduce anything new since everything else was.  My strategy for planning my vegetable garden this year is:

  • Grow easier varieties of vegetables
  • Grow things I’m familiar with
  • Use French Intensive Gardening ideas to maximize the available bed space and production

Square Foot Gardening to the Extreme

If you are not familiar with French intensive gardening, I think it’s definitely worth exploring, especially if you’re a fan of square foot gardening and are ready to take it to another level.  In a nutshell, French Intensive Gardening focuses on the following guiding principles when planning a garden bed:

  • Consider companion plants when planning each bed
  • Uses succession planting to maximize amount of harvest for each bed
  • Push concepts of square foot gardening by interplanting of different compatible vegetables
  • Incorporate permaculture principles for long term management and health of the bed during the year
  • Double digging a bed to loosen soil and incorporate amendments, usually lots and lots of compost and natural fertilization. 

By applying these strategies, I came up with my planting plans for the future vegetable bed, for the rest of the growing year.  However, as I mentioned before, some changes had to be made to my plans with the mice late night snacking in my little greenhouse…

Garden Bed Plans for 2022

This is an overall view of the garden bed that I have selected to plant my vegetables in this year. There are existing trees and bushes in the area, so I’m only going to clear the 6′ x 12′ patch that is shown in the middle. This drawing is at 1 square = 2 feet.

The garden bed that I selected for my vegetable bed this year was what I imagined was the previous homeowner/occupant’s vegetable bed at some point in time.  There was an old rosemary bush growing in the middle of the space and there is a spiget in the middle of the area (that doesn’t work ☹).  The soil is completely grown over with long thick grass, but it’s super soft and very well aerated now because of the moles living in the yard.  Between the existing rosemary bush and a spruce tree, there is a bed area that is about 6 feet by 12 feet that I assessed as the best location for me to clean up and turn into this year’s vegetable bed.

Here’s what this bed will look like throughout the year (Hopefully starting in early spring since my fall garden is a little underwhelming right now…).

Fall

Fall Winter Garden Plan
IF my little seedlings from October had not been chewed up by some mice that broke into my mini greenhouse I may have been able to plant out this garden. But between that and me having a flare in November – December, it just wasn’t in the cards for the 2021/2022 season. Maybe this fall. This is drawn at 1 square = 1 sf

The fall garden would have included overwintered brussels, kale, broccoli and cabbages interplanted with chard and beets.  A bed of fava beans and spinach. A pea trellis. A small bed of radishes, carrots and salad greens, interplanted.  However…mice also think these things are delicious, especially when they are very small seedlings and mice sized.  So we’ll try again this fall and get going a little earlier and with better security 😉

Early Spring

Early Spring Garden Plan
Interplanting of the lettuce, onions, and carrots will help take advantage of all the available space in the bed so that I can be harvesting lettuce while the carrots and onions continue maturing in between the heads of greens. This is drawn at 1 square = 1 sf

Early Spring garden would have had all the shorter term veg replaced by another round of broccoli collards, and cabbage interplanted with spinach, beets, and chard.  As the brassicas are harvested from fall, the beds would be tilled over and replanted with new veg. Two trellises of peas, a row of bush beans.  A row of lettuces and mustards with radishes. A row of lettuces with onions and carrots interplanted.  This is what I’m planning on starting at the end of this month.

Late Spring

Late spring garden plan
This will be when more of the warm garden vegetable varieties will get planted out. I will likely start them at the end of March and mid-April for an early May transplanting. This is drawn at 1 square = 1 sf

Late Spring would see the lettuces replanted as the carrots and onions continue to mature.  The bed of radishes and mustard would slowly transform to a row of pepper plants, while the row of bush beans slowly turns into tomato plants.  The replacement of the pea trellises with a four-sisters planting of winter squash, pole beans, corn and sunflowers.  As the earlier cabbage and broccolis are harvested, they would be replaced with cucumber, zucchini and melon starts.

Mid-Summer

Summer Garden Plan
By the end of the summer, I anticipate this to be the way the garden bed will look. This is drawn at 1 square = 1 sf

Mid-Summer would end with winter squash continuing to mature as the tomatoes and peppers ripen for harvest.  Carrots and onions would finally be pulled from the ground and the beds of summer veg will slowly turnover to starts of cold hardy vegetables, for the whole process to start anew the following year.

Garden Chores in January

FINALLY! A weekend with a glimpse of sun after this ridiculous snow-ice-rain mess!  It’s like the greatest forecast I could have ever seen!  I’m taking full advantage of this and planned my weekend accordingly by tackling some easy and very basic yard and garden chores for a weekend like this.  I came up with the following chore list, though the mulch removal I had to do got a little more elaborate than I originally thought/wanted as I got into it, but so it goes.

Onion seed trays
Onion seeds planted, now to stare at the trays every day for the next 2-3 weeks until they germinate.

January Weekend Garden Chore List

  1. Purchase seeds that I’m low in stock on
  2. Evaluate what I might need to amend the soil
  3. Make a list of any supplies I need to get seeds started
  4. Start the onions and parsley
  5. Finish cleaning up the garden beds and remove all the extra mulch (see MULCH GONE BAD below)
  6. Sprinkle potash (or wood ashes) below the dripline of any fruit or nut trees

I’m exhausted but this was an extremely productive weekend and I’m so glad that I got this work started early.  Looking towards the next sunny weekend that I see in the forecast.  What’s on my to-do list next time?  That double-digging I was mentioning and amending the soil!  Who needs CrossFit when you can garden right?

MULCH GONE BAD

Mulch in Garden bed too high
Can you see how the mulch is piled right up to the underside of the siding and sometimes even above the bottom of the siding? Not good. It’s an invitation for bugs to invade with protection, let alone can lead to water intrusion and other things.

Rant alert.  Seeing the amount of mulch in the garden beds around the house when I first moved in drove me nuts.  There should never be heaps of mulch 5-6” deep on your beds, that’s ridiculous.  And it definitely shouldn’t be covering the bases of your bushes and plants like it is in the photos below.  Stop putting all this crap in your beds to solve your weed problems and start getting on your hands and knees (with padding) and weeding.  This is not healthy for your garden beds, and definitely not your house when you are piling so much in the beds that the mulch is touching or covering the bottom edge of your siding! Are you asking for bug problems? This is like you giving them a protected highway from the dirt to one of the most vulnerable parts of your house for them to access.  Don’t do this.  PLEASE.  Do some weeding, plant some mulching plants, mulch with compost, plant some groundcover or put some weed liner down…but don’t just keep mulching.  LOOK HOW MUCH BETTER THIS ONE BED LOOKS CLEANED UP!!  And no more bug highway. Gross.  Rant over.  Thank you for listening!

Uncovered plant base
This is just two inches of the total depth of mulch removed from this one bed. You can see that it was completely covering the base of this Lily of the Valley bush. This can create problems for the plants if their bases are covered like this.
Leveled mulched garden bed
Now the garden bed and plants are much happier because all the extra mulch has been removed. You can even see the bottom edge of the siding and a glimpse of the foundation now. MUCH BETTER.

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