One of the most challenging aspects in gardening is to get things started at the proper time. Success in the garden often depends on timing.
Planning the work ahead is important. A simple checklist can be used to make sure that everything is started and carried out at the proper time–starting in spring with preparing the ground and the sowing of seeds.
Here is a month-by-month calendar of operations for the vegetable garden. Use this checklist as a timely reminder of things to be done or as the basis for your own check list. Keep your schedule of garden reminders in a loose-leaf notebook with a section for each month. A binder notebook will allow you to make changes and add information. You can add to and modify this calendar from year to year, and you can post the calendar for the month in the garden or in the garden shed.
JANUARY Garden To-Do List:
Probably one of the good resolutions made with the New Year is a better garden for the coming season. Psychologists say that the only hope for resolutions is to nail them down at the start with an action–that seems to have more effect in making an actual impression on the brain. So January is a good time to send for seed catalogs or start perusing them online.
- Planting Plan. Make a list of what you're going to want to grow this year, and then make you can start to sketch out a garden or planting plan.
- Seeds. Order your seed. Order now while the seed grower's stock is full and before the spring rush.
- Manures and compost. If you have a place under cover where you can collect manure and compost for the coming season, do it now, or if the weather allows, add these to your garden now–simply sheet compost, that is spread an inch or two of compost or manure across the planting beds. Soil amendments can often be gotten less expensively at this time of year. If possible, add compost and rock phosphate now to allow for several turnings or the rain and weather to carry these deep into the soil.
- Cold Frames. If you use cold frames or plastic tunnels be sure to open them up and air them out on warm days. Practically no water will be needed in frames or tunnels, but if the soil does dry out sufficiently to need it, apply early on a bright morning.
- Onions. It's not be too early, this month, to sow onions indoors (greenhouse or kitchen counter) for spring transplanting outside. Try Prizetaker, Ailsa Craig, Mammoth Silver-skin, or Gigantic Gibraltar.
- Lettuce. Sow lettuce for spring crop indoors or in cold frames or plastic tunnels.
- Fruit. This is a good month to prune grapes, currants, gooseberries, and peach trees. Dormant spray fruit trees and roses on a clear, windless day.
FEBRUARY Garden To-Do List:
• Cold frames and Hotbeds. Get all your material ready — select lumber and materials to make new frames. Make sure portable frames are ready to go and sashes and covers are in good repair.
• Starting Seeds. First part of the month start seeds indoors or in the greenhouse or hot frame: earliest planting of cabbage, cauliflower, and lettuce should be made; then two to four weeks later for main crop cabbage family members. At this time also, beets and earliest celery and Brussels sprouts can be sown indoors or in frames (or outside if you live in a mild winter region).
• Tools. Check and clean them all now; order repairs.
• Poles and trellises. Get your wire trellis and planting poles in order or get new supplies for the coming season.
• Fruit. Finish up last month's pruning and dormant spraying, if not all done. Also examine plum and cherry trees for overwintered pests or diseases.
MARCH Garden To-Do List:
• Plastic tunnels and cold frames. Get season extending plastic tunnel and cold frames in place now. Some of the seed sown indoors last month will be ready for transplanting and going into the frames and tunnels; also lettuce sown in January. Radish and carrot may be sown in alternating rows in beds covered with plastic tunnels. Give plenty of air and water to seedlings on bright mornings; be careful not to have them caught by suddenly cold nights after a bright warm day.
• Seed-sowing indoors. Last indoor sowing of early cabbage and early summer cabbages, lettuce, rhubarb (for seedling plants), cauliflower, radish, spinach, turnip, and early tomatoes; towards the end of the month, sow seed for late-season tomatoes and first of lima beans, cucumber, squash, peppers, and eggplant. Start main crop tomatoes in frames. Sprout early potatoes in sand.
• Planting, outside. If there is an early spring and the ground is workable and sufficiently dry, sow onions, lettuce, beet, radish, smooth peas, early carrot, cabbage, leek, celery (main crop), and turnip. Set out new beds of asparagus, rhubarb and sea-kale. Manure and fork up old beds and lay down an inch or two of aged compost.
• Fruit. Prune now, apple, plum, and pear trees. And this is the last chance for lime-sulphur and dormant oil sprays.
APRIL Garden To-Do List:
Now the rush is on! Plan your work, and work your plan. But do not yield to the temptation to plant more than you can care for and eat later on.
• Frames. Air! Water! These will keep aphids or whiteflies from getting a foothold in the frame. Almost every day the top should be lifted and aired. Take care that seed starting pots and flat do not dry out–check both in the morning and late afternoon. Air and water are simple preventatives for keeping insect pests and disease at bay.
• Seed sowing. In the greenhouse, hot frame, or indoors, sow seed of tomato, eggplant, peppers, muskmelon, and watermelon. Also this month sow, corn, cucumbers, melons, early squash, and lima beans for transplanting out at the end of May or in early June.
• Planting, outside. Plant in seed beds celery, cabbage, lettuce, onions, carrots, smooth peas, spinach, beets, chard, parsnip, turnip, and radish. Set out lettuce and cabbage plants. If not put in last month, sow also parsnip, salsify, parsley, wrinkled peas, endive; toward the end of this month (or first part of next) do a second plantings of these. Set out plants of early cabbage, lettuce, onion sets, sprouted potatoes, and beets.
• In the garden. Cultivate between rows of sowed crops; get rid of weeds by hand just as soon as they appear and keep an eye out for cutworms and root-maggots.
• Fruit. Thin out all old blackberry canes, dewberry and raspberry canes (if this was not done last summer or fall; it's best to do this directly after the fruiting season). Set out new strawberry beds, small fruits and fruit trees.
MAY Garden To-Do List:
• Weeding. Keep ahead of the weeds; this is the month when warm days and gentle rains allow weeds to grow by leaps and bounds. Don't let sprouting onions, beets, and carrots get overtaken by rapid-growing weeds. A slight hilling of crops at planting time will set sprouting weeds apart from your vegetables.
• Frames and Tunnels. Guard tender plants growing in frames or plastic tunnels–tomatoes, eggplant and peppers–against sudden late frosts. The cover may be left off most of the time, but keep your eye on the weather forecast. As needed, water crops in the frame keeping the soil just moist.
• Planting, outside. First part of the month: early beans, early corn, okra and late potatoes may sown or transplanted out into the garden; and first tomatoes set out–even if a few are lost–they are readily replaced. Finish transplanting out cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, and beets from frames. As soon as the weather warms: sow in the garden or set out starts of beans, lima beans, muskmelon, watermelon, summer squash, peas, potatoes, lettuce, radish, tomatoes, corn, kale, winter squash, pumpkins, pole limas, and cucumbers.
JUNE Garden To-Do List:
Keep up frequent, shallow cultivation in planting beds–knock down weeds early!
•Seeds and starts. Early in the month, sow beans, wax beans, lima beans, pole beans, melons, corn, cucumber, peas, New Zealand spinach, and summer lettuce. Set out starts of eggplant, pepper, and main-crop tomatoes. Make successive crops of lettuce, radish, carrots, and spinach. Lightly moisten the soil before sowing, then firm seeds in. Mid-month plant beans, corn, peas, turnip, summer lettuce, radish, late cabbage, and set out late-season tomato plants. Toward the end of the month set out celery and late cabbage.
• Maintenance. Top-dress growing crops with aged compost. Prune tomatoes, and cut out excess foliage for early tomatoes. If you didn't put cages of poles in place at planting time, do it now before tomatoes develop roots in earnest.
•Fall crops. Sow beans, beets, corn, and other early fall crops. Allow asparagus to grow ferny tops.
JULY Garden To-Do List:
Maintain frequent, shallow cultivation. Keep after the weeds.
• Planting. Set out late cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, leeks and celery. Early in the month sow beans, beets, endive, kale, lettuce, radish, winter cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and celery plants. Mid-month sow beans, early corn, and early peas for late fall crops and successions of lettuce and radish. Irrigate as needed.
• Fruit. Pinch back new canes of blackberry, dewberry and raspberry. Rub off second crop of buds on grapes. Thin out if too many bunches of grapes; also on plums, peaches and other fruit thin too thick or touching fruits.
• Seed Start Fall Harvest Crops. Sow indoors or directly in the garden fall harvest cool-weather crops: leafy crops and roots. Sow Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, leeks.
AUGUST Garden To-Do List:
• Weeds. Keep the garden clean from late weeds–especially purslane, the hot-weather weeds which should be always removed from the garden.
• Planting. Sow spinach, rutabaga, turnip, bush beans and peas for the last fall crop. During first part of month, late celery may still be put out. Sow early peas, lettuce, and radish for early fall crop, in indoors or in frames or tunnels.
SEPTEMBER Garden To-Do List:
• Frames and tunnels. Transplant out lettuce started in August. Sow radishes, onions, and successive crop of lettuce. Protect tender crops from cold nights; keep an eye on the weather forecast.
• Harvest and store. Harvest onions. Get squash under cover before frost. Sow spinach and onions for wintering over. Sow a cover crop of rye as spots in the garden are cleared of summer crops.
• Sow cool-season crops. Leaf and root crops can be seed started now in a cold frame or plastic tunnel for winter harvest.
OCTOBER Garden To-Do List:
•Get ready for winter. Gather tomatoes, melons, and summer crops to keep as long as possible. Keep especially clean and well cultivated all crops to be wintered over.
•Frame and tunnels. Sow in frame or tunnel quick-maturing cool-weather crops such as cut-and-come again lettuce or beets or turnips for harvest before or during winter. Grow over-wintering crops to near maturity before daylight dips below 10 hours a day in mid-November. Protect these crops through the winter in the frame.
•Store. Late in the month store cabbage and cauliflower; also beets, carrots, and other root crops. Get boxes, barrels, bins, sand, or sphagnum moss ready beforehand, to save time in packing.
•Clean the garden. Store poles and trellis for use next year. Clean garden beds of spent plants and debris as crops come in. Don't give pests and diseases a place to over winter. Spread aged compost across planting beds as they are cleared.
• Fruit. Harvest apples and other fruits. Pick winter pears just before hard frosts, and store in dry dark place.
NOVEMBER Garden To-Do List:
• Frames. Make deep hotbeds for winter lettuce and radishes. Construct frames for use next spring. See that vegetables in cellar, bins, and sheds are safe from freezing. If you live where the ground freezes, take in root crops if any remain in the ground unprotected by a frame, except, of course, parsnip and salsify for spring use. Put aged manure on asparagus and rhubarb beds. Get straw mulch ready for spinach and kale to be wintered over, if they are in exposed locations.
• Fruit. Obtain seedless hay for mulching strawberries. Cut out old wood of cane-fruits such as blackberries if not done after gathering fruit. Look over fruit trees for borers.
More November garden tips at: November Kitchen Garden Almanac.
DECEMBER Garden To-Do List:
• Mulch. Mulch crops that will be over-wintered in the garden with straw or seedless hay. Use only light, loose material at first, gradually covering plant for winter as temperatures drop. Put mulch on spinach and kale and over salsify and parsnips.
• Seed Starting and Planning. If you live in a mild-winter region, you can start cool-season crops for harvest in spring and late spring. If you live in a cold-winter region make a list of crops you want to start indoors in January and February.
• Fruit. Mulch strawberries. Prune grape-vines. Make first application of winter sprays for fruit trees.
• Compost. Add to and turn the compost pile before winter sets in. Any seed-free weeds or non-diseased garden waste can be added to the compost.