Tilling & Planning a Garden

Gardening: Planning and Tilling | The Fresh Exchange

So here begins the gardening. The growing from the ground and even though we are late starters (the day we shot this there was still snow on the ground in the woods behind us) we felt so grateful to be out in the sun that day and beginning the process of taking the garden back after that long drawn out Winter.

My hope is from here on out the garden and the process of growing food for yourself will become a common topic around here. I want to show a different side to gardening…the more real, honest, gritty, stylish, and cool side. I want you all to see that you can do it too more than anything! Though Mike and I have a large plot that we tend I will be showing ways to maintain pots of lettuce, wheat grass, succulents, and herbs and other awesome things for those of you that don’t have this kind of room! There will even be something for the most not green thumb types. I PROMISE! Let’s eat more directly from the land, what ya think?

Gardening: Planning and Tilling | The Fresh Exchange

So let’s get right in to it. The garden is a lot of work I won’t lie to you, but when you are out there tilling by hand, raking, pulling, and so on you sweat and you realize how precious it is to have vegetables and how much of it we take for granted. I think it is very important to reconnect with the earth in this day when a grocery store is so convenient. I am dying to eat my own kale and tomatoes and to stop buying them from lord knows where. This connection back to your food is a big reason Mike pushes to want to till our garden by hand. Mike really digs listening to Merle Haggard and drinking beer, but he also loves the connection he has to the dirt and the food we will eat from the hard work he put in to that space. It is pretty awesome when you experience those connections.

Before we get too far along, let me begin by telling you about soil. This rich dark stuff was not always so rich and dark. This patch was a sandy mess. We live 10 minutes from Lake Michigan and less than a mile to many bodies of water so our soil in our yard is not what I would call ideal. It took nearly 4 years to build this stuff up. The first year was sad. The tomatoes were no good and the only thing that seemed to pull through with any dignity was our basil. So the next year we added in compost (if you have a yard buy this guy for compost, if you don’t some cities will have services that create compost within your community that you pay a small fee for…similar to your trash service, except you get compost back!) This is the best way to insure that you are getting organic things in your soil…at least in my opinion. I figure I know what I put in my compost I know what I am getting back out.

Now we have worms and quite the array of other fun critters that crawl through our dirt. Last year we had multiple toads living under the green beans. These are all things that mean you have good dirt to work with.

Gardening: Planning and Tilling | The Fresh Exchange

Every Spring we wait till the first really warm day and the snow has been gone for a while. This is how we can assume the ground is not frozen anymore. We then begin by pulling all the old tomato stems, pepper plants, and any other left overs from last year. We also inspect what may have come back…for us this year it was onions and strawberries.

Once everything is cleared out we begin tilling. That guy Mike is holding above is a rockstar if you want to till by hand. If not look in to renting a tiller or purchasing. This all depends on how serious you are about these things. What tilling helps do is place fresh oxygen back in to the soil and turn the top back under and so on, so that all that good stuff that’s been brewing under the service can come to the top to support your brand new plants! There are 100 other things it does, but those are the basics.

Gardening: Planning and Tilling | The Fresh Exchange

Last year I helped Mike till, but this year I moved on to planning since the cold has made me very confused about when we should start planning…Warm days make it really seem like it might actually become Summer at some point. So while he tilled our 10′ x 30′ plot and enjoyed listening to Merle, I went about planning out what would we be planting this year.

Gardening: Planning and Tilling | The Fresh Exchange

In the past, I have not explored much when it comes to what we plant. I keep it simple with peppers, beans, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers…but this year we purchased all kind of Non-GMO seeds.

The reason it is important to get Non-GMO seeds / Non-Hybrid Seeds is because just like why everyone complains about GMO foods the same thing has happened to our seeds. Larger seed companies offer Organic seedsย but don’t be fooled. Pay 50 cents more for the package that labels itself either Non-Hybrid and/or Non-GMO. This ensures that your seeds are the most natural and highest nutrient seeds you can purchase. They are not commercial produced, which results in the best possible vegetables and fruits you can grow. This is my second year going this route, but last year only found one company at a very small garden store that sold these type of seeds. So when I saw Clyde Oak was offering this seed collection I was game. I added in a few other things such as Rainbow Carrots, Kale, and pickling cucumbers. I wanted to try some new things ๐Ÿ™‚

So since this was my launching point I drew up a diagram that we will be referring to here almost all Spring as Summer as we move forward with planting the garden. The one thing I did not indicate on the diagram is that the left side is against our trees and is towards the west so this area gets the least amount of sun during the day. The far right gets the most. You will figure out why I mention that as I discuss why I am planting things in the ways I am.

Gardening: Planning and Tilling | The Fresh Exchange

As we progress through this process I will be giving color to the items that are growing currently in the garden. Things will change out too as the seasons change and so on so this will help you stay up to date on what we are growing.

To begin how I worked through this process of planning the garden I did 3 things.
1. Figured out which plants need to started as seeds inside now, which ones can be seeded in the ground now, and which ones I will seed in the ground after the last frost.
2. What items need the most amount of sunlight, which need the least, and which ones enjoy heat and which ones don’t.
3. What kind of plant are they? Do they grow as a root? Do they grow upward? Do they need support? Do they spread on the ground?

What I determined was this:

Seeding now in the ground:
Kale, Carrots, beets, onions, and radishes
All of these ones either grow underground and/or they need to be grown in lower temps and don’t mind it. This is also why they are in the area that gets the least amount of sun!

Starting Indoors:
Peppers, Tomatoes, Zucchini, Cucumbers, and Cantaloupe
All these items are what I call Summer plants. They love the heat and need direct sun and daily watering, but will not survive a frost. They need the long warm days in order to grow. So I begin them inside till they are hardy enough to be exposed to the weather. Also this gives me 4-6 weeks until I need to plant them. This places my planting them at the beginning or middle of June. This is usually when we receive the last chance of frost.

I also am prepping potted plants now such as wheat grass, lettuce, herbs as well. These are also great to let go year around in your house especially if you have a room with a big window and lots of light all day.

Seeding after Last Frost:
Green Beans and Sugar Snap Peas
At the same time I plant the plants that have been growing the month of May indoors I will seed these in the ground. I will talk about how I build trellises for my sugar snaps as well, as this will help you get the best crop possible. Sometimes you can seed them even the week before the last frost since they will not pop for almost 2 weeks. You are testing fate but it has worked for me in the past.

Gardening: Planning and Tilling | The Fresh Exchange

So by the end of the day I had everything planned. Things put where they are supposed to be right now to prep for the oncoming season. With gardening it is all about preparation. I think that is part of my love for it. It poses a huge challenge, but really it is still very simple. The biggest thing to remember is gardening is super similar to cooking. There are recipes and ways you can do it, but experimenting and doing what you think needs to be done is totally okay too and sometimes more fun! Know that we all make mistakes. Last year my cherry tomato plants never sprouted…EVER. Bad seeds? Maybe I don’t know so there I was going to the garden store to buy one. I hope this year I can succeed.

Gardening: Planning and Tilling | The Fresh Exchange

More to come, my friends! Feel free to pose questions below. I am glad to help answer what I can. Also if you have suggestions feel free to interject as well. There is still a lot to learn!


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21 Responses

  1. inspiring. I so wish I could/would do that to my plot.. we have so much of it but all on a hill.and we have a lot of clay.. so it makes it hard to grown veggies. any suggestions? found your blog last week and so happy I did.

    1. YES! 2 things…1. You can find a small area in your yard that is flat and get a raised bed that fits the size you do have that is flat (can even place it on your patio) You can then fill it with dirt that is nutrient rich. The other thing you can do is get really in and start tilling with a real mechanical tiller that can tear in to the clay. You can add in compost and dirt. The thing to do is a find a small local gardening store and have them consult you on how to prep your soil the best way possible. Every piece of land is different. Worst case you can look in to the Earth Box setups as well. They are really nice and low maintenance. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. pure bliss. so in love with working with the ground to create real food – this post has me so excited to see my little seedlings start to sprout! The plot chart is so darn cute!!! I haven’t planted our onions yet, so hopefully I’m not late!

  3. This is awesome Megan! I love how much thought you put into preparing the garden and the graphic for us to keep track of your garden adventures! I’m currently growing melons and strawberries inside… and need to create more garden space outside for everything I’ve planned. Thanks for your enthusiasm!

  4. I can’t wait to watch your garden grow! I just went to a gardening demonstration last night. It got me really excited for this season. Watch out for those strawberries. They spread like crazy!

  5. This is great! I’ve wanted to start my own garden, but have opted to join a CSA the last few years because I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep up with the work involved. Can’t wait to follow along with your garden and see it progress.

  6. someone is sporting a new ‘do, right? looks so cute!

    last year I had a tiny garden on my fire escape, though this summer i’m spending 80% of my time in boston in a basement apartment with practically no natural light and no outdoor space. i’ll have to rely on whole foods, farmer’s markets, and living vicariously through your blog ๐Ÿ˜›

  7. I love the plot you created. It looks like it’s going to be great. We just moved into a house a week and a half ago and are looking forward to really making the yard our own and planting some things! We’ll definitely have to work on the soil first, though…

  8. This is awesome. I live in the city but they have urban garden that I was thinking about getting into. I may after reading ur blog. You provided a lot of great tips on how to get started.

  9. You make me jealous that we have no yard! My brother in law has a rare metabollic disorder we he can’t eat any protein, so my in-laws grow a massive garden and eat almost exclusively from it. I love Thanksgiving at there house because they will say things like “can someone go dig up another potato and grab some more kale?” and out the door we go. Happy planting!

  10. I love this blog and the kind of lifestyle this promotes, I think more and more people are starting to realize that going back to our “roots” pun intended ๐Ÿ™‚ is the way to be moving forward.

    Also, I just want to say that your blogs often make me want to move to Michigan and be your neighbors so me and my husband can hang out with you guys, LOL!

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Bringing us back to nature through the garden and community.

I’m Megan Gilger and I am glad to have you here growing with me as we garden, live seasonally, and pursue an eco-lifestyle.

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