Preparing for Planting

It may seem a bit odd to talk about planting in the middle of winter, but this is actually the time that many avid gardeners, especially those interested in self-sufficiency, begin to think about the planting season. Of course, the planning process starts in the larder. Even though there is a catalog in your hand at the moment, the catalog doesn’t do any good until you know what to order and your larder contains that information.

As part of the preparation process, you should go through the larder, ensure all of the oldest items are in the front of the shelves, verify that all of the jars are still sealed, and wash the jars to keep them clean. Make sure all of the jars are properly marked with both food type and year canned as well. The process of organizing your larder and keeping it clean is important because doing so will make it a lot easier to determine what to plant. Once you complete this task, you can perform an inventory to determine what items are in short supply. These are the items that you need to order from the catalog.

Sometimes you can use your larder as a jumping off point for dreams of things you’d like to try in the future. For example, until last year, our larder lacked pickled asparagus—now I wouldn’t be without it. However, before we could pickle the asparagus, we had to grow enough to make the effort worthwhile, which meant planting more asparagus and waiting several years for it to get old enough to produce a decent crop. Yes, the larder was the start of our dream and the catalog provided us with ideas on how to achieve our dream, but in the end, the realization of our dream happened in the garden and in the kitchen.

Our larder also holds our canning supplies and equipment. This is the time of the year when you should perform an inventory of these items as well and ensure they’re in good shape. For example, the seal and pressure relief value on your pressure canner requires regular replacement—we simply make it a practice to replace these items before the start of the canning season because doing so is inexpensive and reduces the risk of mishap in the kitchen later. No matter where you store your canning supplies and equipment, now is the time to maintain them.

Writing your needs down as you discover them is a great idea. Check out the various catalogs you receive starting this time of year to determine which products will best suit your needs. It’s unlikely that you’ll completely fill your garden with just the items you need from the larder. The catalog will also supply ideas for new items you can try. Sometimes we try a new variety of vegetable or fruit just to see how it grows in this climate. Over the years we’ve discovered some items that grow exceptionally well for us (and also experienced more than a few failures).

Don’t just address your main garden, however. It’s also time to check into herbs and address any deficiencies in the orchard. This is the time for planning. Trying to figure everything out later, when you’re already engaged in preparing the garden, will prove difficult and you’ll make more mistakes than usual if you wait.

It’s also important to start ordering as soon as you know what you need. The catalog companies won’t send you product until it’s time to plant. However, they do use a first come, first served policy. Other gardeners are already order products. If you wait, you may not get your first choice of items and may have to reorder later.

Planning is an essential part of a successful year in the garden and orchard. However, I also enjoy starting the planning process this time of the year because it makes winter seem a little less severe. A little spring in winter is like a breath of fresh air. What sorts of things do you do to prepare for spring? Let me know at [email protected].


Arrival of the Seed Catalogs

A special event takes place each year around this time—the seed catalogs arrive on our doorstep. Nothing says springtime like the arrival of these glimpses into the future. Rebecca and I wait for them each year with bated breath and eagerly anticipate what they’ll contain. The two major catalogs for us come from Jung’s and Gurney’s. We do receive other catalogs, but don’t look at them in detail quite as often as we do these two. The main reason is that these two catalogs generally contain everything we want to grow (and then some).

I’m sure that a few of you are already rolling your eyes and thinking, “Just how antiquated can you get? Why not look online?” I’ve been finding that online catalogs work great when you have some idea of what you want. If I want to buy a specific piece of software or computer hardware, a repair part for Rebecca’s vacuum, clothing, CDs, DVDs, and so on, then an online catalog works great. In fact, using one can save time. Growing a garden is a little different. Often, you don’t know that you’re going to grow something until you see it in a catalog. In short, viewing the catalog provides something online catalogs don’t provide as well—a glimpse of what you didn’t know you wanted.

Before someone places this sort of purchase in the impulse buying category, it’s good to consider how seeing new items can really help the gardener. The following list is my favorite reasons for looking at new items, rather than simply sticking with the old favorites:


  • Growing new items can help improve the nutrition the grower receives from the produce.
  • Different items take different nutrients from the soil, so growing new items can help keep the nutrients in your garden more balanced.
  • No one wants to get bored growing their own food.
  • The new items may have different resistance to pests, making use of pesticides less necessary.

These reasons won’t be enough for some people to consider going back to the paper catalog after establishing an affinity for the online version. There are other good reasons to get a paper catalog:


  • Some paper catalogs come with discount coupons that you don’t receive with the online version.
  • You can’t take a usable computer screen with you to show friends what you plan to buy (viewing gardening items on an iPad just doesn’t make it in my book).
  • It’s even hard for two people to view the catalog in the same way by sharing a computer display.
  • Using the online catalog often requires that you open your computer to potential virus attack in order to use JavaScript and those fancy multimedia features.
  • Catalogs make it easy to compare what you thought you were going to get with what you actually see in the garden.
  • The paper catalog is a handy reminder that you really do need to start thinking about your garden, even though winter still has a firm grasp.

Whether you get a paper catalog or not is up to you, of course. Some people will say that we’re wasting trees by continuing to get paper catalogs (we do recycle every last piece of paper that enters the house). Whether you use paper or online catalogs though, it’s time to start thinking about that garden. What will you plant this year? Let me know about your gardening ideas at [email protected].