The garden calls in winter

Although January, February are looming, there are still decisions to be made

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Those East Central Illinois residents who love to work in the dirt can get a bit depressed and stir crazy in winter.

Looking out at the brown fields — or at the horses rolling around in the mud pasture — it’s difficult to remember the abundance — and heat, sweat and weeds — that make up the bulk of the summer in the garden. As January prepares to arrive — with much colder temperatures next week —the seed catalogs are now arriving. Gardeners are finding a little bit of excitement to start the whole process again.

Gardeners spend hours pouring over the seed catalogs, making lists, cross checking them, studying seeding dates and mapping the fields. This time of year allows gardeners to learn more, become inspired and organize their gardens for the upcoming season.

There’s plenty that can be done in January and February to prepare for a successful year in the garden.

Study and Learn

An experienced gardener may already have a good idea about what grows well in our area, as well as what has grown well in the past. Chances are there’s probably been failures as well.

But if you’re new to gardening, don’t worry, someone else has already tried — and probably failed — with just about every aspect of cultivation. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it takes a bit of work studying and reading to learn what is a sure bet for your region, how to best plant, transplant, cultivate and harvest what you choose.

Reputable seed companies usually have careful instructions on how to grow different seeds. Take the time to read how to do it right and there will be a much higher rate of success.

There are countless articles and blogs on the Internet now to help in the quest for knowledge. Always keep in mind the region about which the author is writing, as climates can differ greatly.

Edgar County is located in USDA Zone 6. Check and make sure the seeds purchased are recommended for the correct zone.

Map your Garden

This doesn’t have to be a huge project. There’s no need to create professional level blueprints — but have a general idea about the space where the garden will be located. There are four primary necessities for any successful garden — light, water, soil and space. You need to determine the range of all of these so you can choose plants that are best suited for that area.

Measure and draw the garden as close to scale as you can. Draw in any large fixtures, such as the garage, a large tree, a big rock or anything else that could potentially cause shade during the day.

Determine which way is east so you can mark the map and so you’ll have a general understanding of the way the sun will move through the day. Determine the water source and mark that on the map as well. Consider the soil and what you will do to keep it healthy and productive.

Order Your Seeds

After figuring out what to plant and where to get it, order the seeds. Always order as early as possible to insure the seeds are not sold out or back-ordered. Potatoes are always notorious for this, so order early.

Organize your Seeds

When the boxes of seeds arrive, organize them. Carefully check to make sure the orders are complete. Separate the seeds by when they need to be started and later transplanted as well as those that can be directly sown in the garden. Organize the seeds by planting date.

Inventory your Supplies

Take the time in the dead of winter to inventory all gardening supplies making sure everything is ready for spring. There’s nothing worse than finding something is missing and a trip to Rural King or the local garden center is needed.

Give your tools a good wash. Check to make sure seed starting soil, seed trays, pots or anything else needed to start seeds indoors is on hand.