Starting your own garden

With several feet of snow already on the ground and more in the forecast, it might be hard to imagine the feeling of warm sunshine on your back and fresh soil in your hands.

But now is the perfect time to start planning for your home garden. Whether you have an established green thumb or are just starting out, a well thought-out plan will ensure you have a bounty of fresh produce at your disposal when summer finally makes its arrival.

Here’s a few tips to help you get started.

First, determine when the last day of frost is predicted for your area. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, Marquette’s last spring frost is predicted for May 11 and the first fall frost is Oct. 14, making for a typical growing season of 155 days. Keep in mind that this is a prediction, calculated using 1981-2010 climate normals. Unless you’re new to the area, you know that this date can really fluctuate. We’re in Michigan, after all. Expect the worst, but be prepared just in case.

Next, if you don’t have an already existing space, determine the size and placement of your garden (choose a nice, sunny spot with easy access to water) and map out what you’d like to grow. Be sure to leave enough space between plants, as well as room for yourself to weed and water. Will you be planting one time for harvest later in the season or do you want to get the most out of your garden through succession planting, harvesting and rotating different crops throughout the season as temperatures fluctuate and produce hits its peak freshness?

Seasonal greens, scallions, peas and herbs thrive in cool spring weather and once harvested, can be replaced by heartier, heat-loving plants like cucumbers, beans, peppers, squash and tomatoes. You might even be able to squeeze in another round of greens again near the end of the season.

Once you have an estimated frost date and have determined what you want to grow, it’s time to buy your seeds. Staff in the Marquette Food Co-op’s Produce Department set up a beautiful display of High Mowing Organic Seeds this week. These seeds are high-quality, non-GMO and 100 percent certified organic, and are regularly tested for germination rates, disease and contamination. Quality is so important and ensures that your seeds will be viable and yield an excellent product.

Since I’m only able to fit a few smaller raised beds in my yard, I like to collaborate with friends and family when purchasing seeds. My dad and I have a solid agreement — I grow a lot of herbs, tomatoes and peppers, and he grows crops that take up more space, like potatoes, carrots and squash. We’re able to have it all by sharing our harvest.

Consider a variety of factors when choosing your seeds, including obvious things like what you’re most likely to consume, what grows best in your area, and whether you can plant them directly in your garden or if you’ll need to start them indoors. If you decide to get a jump on the season and grow your own plant starts indoors, count back from your frost date according to the directions on your seed package, giving them enough time to develop before transferring to your garden. You’ll need containers that have drainage holes, a quality potting mix and a sunny, south-facing window to get started.

If you’re like me and life usually tends to get in the way of your plans to get a head start, don’t worry. The Co-op, along with many vendors at the Downtown Marquette Farmers Market, will have plant starts available for purchase come spring. While shopping, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Our local farmers are obviously very knowledgeable about best growing practices and can be a great resource, providing plenty of good information and advice to make their starts thrive in your home garden.

From here, it’s either a waiting game if you’re planting directly in the soil or continued maintenance of your plant starts.

Remember to stay positive and don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time around. There is a lot of trial and error involved in gardening, but in the end, all you really need is quality seeds and soil, space, water, time and energy to create a beautiful and bountiful garden. Growing your own food is an incredible experience and has many benefits. It fosters a deeper connection with our food, cultivates relationships with others and our Earth, saves money, reduces our environmental impact, promotes physical activity, and provides us with more nutritious and flavorful food. Plus, you’ll have such a great feeling of pride and accomplishment knowing that you did this on your own.

If you’re willing put in the effort, you’ll reap the reward.

PS. If you want to take your homesteading to another level this year, the Marquette City Commission recently approved a new Land Development Code, which allows for the legal possession of chickens, rabbits and bees by property owners within city limits. The updated code was to go into effect soon, but a Zoning Compliance Permit will be required since the keeping of these animals is to be done according to standards for their care and housing. The full code can be viewed online at www.marquettemi.gov.

Editor’s Note: Kelsie Dewar is the Publicity Coordinator at the Marquette Food Co-op. She loves all things food, and enjoys reading, writing, photography and exploring the great outdoors in her free time. Kelsie can be reached at kdewar@marquettefood.coop.