Outdoor organizing

Holy smokes – where did March go? Oh, I know. It was buried under snow and freezing temperaturs, making for perfect hibernating and lots of sleeping. I was thrilled by some decent weather two weekends ago (FINALLY!) in Chicago, as short lived as it was. I actually spent most of the day Saturday outside cleaning up my backyard. Now I can’t stop thinking about spring planting and garden planning. And – that magic word – organizing. I started doing some research when the temperature started dropping again last week, and talking with my friend Shelley (founder of The Chopping Block cooking school DEFINITLY knows how to grow veggies) reinforced that I need a plan this year, rather than just haphazardly throwing some seeds into pots in the backyard and waiting to see what happens. And there are a TON of resources out there for gardening, planting and urban growing for the novice, like me.

One site I visited recommended starting a garden journal to organize my timeline, tasks, plants and garden design. So I did!

It’s till in infancy, and I know I have a lot more to learn because this is all new to me, but here’s what I can share so far:

  1. Know your zone – there are a number of web sites that let you plug in your zip code and tell you your USDA Hardiness Zone (http://www.garden.org/zipzone/), which provides climate information (average temps, freezing and thaw seasons, etc.). It’s a great way to start figuring out your timeline of when to rake out all of the winter gunk from where I want the flower bed to be; when to till the soil; when to integrate compost; and more. This is the first section of my journal.
  2. Regional = Seasonal – I did a broad search for Chicago gardening tips, and hit a jackpot of resources – one of which gave me a month-by-month look at specific garden tasks, which is exactly what a newbie like me needs. (Check out Chicagoland Gardening Magazine’s Seasonal Tips here: http://www.chicagolandgardening.com/CGMPages/whattodo.htm). So I have a seasonal timeline customized for my zone as the second section of my journal.
  3. It’s never too early! In a four-season climate like Chicago where winter is long and growing season is short, it is recommended to start your seeds indoors for a month or two and then transplant them outside when it warms up. Now, why didn’t I think of that?
  4. Sun, soil, water, oh my! – I know what I’d like to end up with, sort of (lots of veggies I can eat!) but not really anything about the conditions they need to grow the best, biggest, most delicious products. So I’m starting from scratch, basically. But that’s okay, because there are zillions of web sites that explain all of the aspects of sun requirements, soil acidity, water frequency, harvesting times, etc. for specific plants. So the third section of my journal is dedicated to each of the plants I am going to plant. Each plant has a grid for me to fill out with all of the growing and harvesting info as I find it. Hopefully, researching this kind of detail for each plant will also help me fill in my task timeline and make things easier for me to learn as I go.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far. I welcome feedback and other ideas!

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