How to Start Your Vegetable Garden, Now

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The snow may not have melted everywhere, but the earth is starting its slow twist toward the sun, birds are singing their get-it-on songs, and chlorophyll is bursting into blades of grass. Spring is coming, and before it arrives, it is time to plan your summer vegetable garden.

The major questions of garden prep are: What are you going to plant? When are you going to plant? and Where are you going to garden? Once you've answered these questions most of the planning is straightforward.

When to Plant
The first bit of garden knowledge you need to know is your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone, which tells you when you can plant something and not worry about it dying some frosty night. The thing is that some seeds like it cold and some like it hot, so you'll want to plant some vegetables (like Kale) before the last frost date for your zone and some, like cucumbers, well after. Burpee seed company offers a nice garden calendar that corresponds to your USDA Zone. Just plug in your zip code and you have an instant planning guide for your area.

What to Plant
With a garden calendar in hand you know what's possible, but what do you actually want to put in the ground? It's best to start with what was in your salad at lunch (if you ate salads). It seems like it would go without saying, but many gardeners plant stuff they'll never eat. Don't waste your time. My family eats kale or collards every day, so I'm going to plant a lot of both. We like micro salad greens, so I put in a bed of those. I don't care for summer squash, so I'll skip those. Think simple, but don't forget to try something new. Also make sure flowers are a part of the plan. Marigolds and petunias both help keep pests down and attract those ever-necessary honey bees to your garden.

Where to Plant
If you don't have a garden plot already, picking the right spot can be tricky. You want a place that has about 6-8 hours of direct sunlight (and be sure to account for the shade that will come when the trees have leaves on them). The area should also drain fairly well. Watch the next time it rains and make sure there are no puddles.

Once you have a sunny spot with decent drainage, you can go in a wide variety of directions from labor-intensive double-digging to alternative patterns like a keyhole garden. For beginners, a raised bed garden is a good way to go. Think of a sandbox with a soil mix instead of sand. These gardens can be easy to manage and can take considerably less work to set up than more traditional gardens. A quick Google search will turn up plans to build one or your local hardware store will gladly sell you a kit.

With a solid plan in place, you'll be ready to get to work as soon as the snow melts.

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