December Gardening Tips

By December 18, 2018Garden Tips

When days are chilly and snow covers our gardens all I want to do is curl up in a warm corner with a stack of seed catalogs or a good garden book.  The two top picks on my new book list for 2019 are Farming While Black :Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land by Leah Penniman who will be one of the keynote speakers January 11-13, 2019 at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in Richmond, VA. I had the pleasure of reading a review copy and found Leah’s book to be the most inspiring I have read in years. From the title you might think this book is only for black and brown farmers but really it is for everyone who cares about a fair and equitable food system. You can read Pam Dawling’s long review Of Leah’s book in the November VABF Newsletter or in her blog Sustainable Market Farming.  Pam is also the author of my other pick for 2019 The Year-Round Hoophouse: Polytunnels for All Seasons and All Climates. Pam has done a fantastic job making the book well organized and easy to read for the beginner but detailed enough to be a useful reference for experienced growers who want to bring a variety of healthy fresh delicious food to their kitchen or market stall year-round.

Cold weather and Christmas are also the signals to get serious about garden planning and seed ordering. First finish inventorying and evaluating the likely vigor of all the seeds you are carrying over for next year. If you aren’t sure about old seed do a quick germination test.  Label a section of heavy duty paper towel with the variety name. Moisten the towel then count out 20 seeds. Roll up the towel, fold in half and loosely hold together with a rubber band. Cover the rolled towel loosely with an open plastic bag and place in a warm (70 degrees F) Visit SESEs How to Test Germination for a good introduction to home germination testing.

With a list of good seeds you already have the next steps are figuring out what you would like to plant then ordering enough seeds for the whole season. Make sure your plan includes when each variety  should be planted and harvested, arranging for succession sowings as well as when to do your summer planting for an abundant fall and winter harvest . For gardeners who prefer to use pencil and paper the Growing Guide and Resources  section at offers a Beginners Growing Guide, planting dates guide,  info on succession planting and more to help with mapping your plot and scheduling your plantings.

For gardeners even a little comfortable with online tools figuring all of this out is so much easier with the new Garden planner available online at Southern Exposure Vegetable Garden Planner. Just enter your zip code to get started with your first and last frost date.  When you use the planner information about plant spacing, planting, how long the crop will be in the ground and more is just a click away. The best part is you can try the planner out free for 7 days to decide if you like it. You can even sign up for twice a month reminders of what to plant and harvest. Another free resource for garden planning is the 2019 Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog which should start hitting mailboxes December 20. Just in time for garden dreaming on the next cold snowy day.

By Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
and the author of  The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast