So You're Starting a Garden

January 31, 2021

If you have followed us for awhile, you know we are advocates of no till gardening. It's simple, it's easy, and it preserves the soil. However, gardening in a way that's contradictory and sometimes - you just need to get started. 

Here, I go over the absolute basics that you may be considering - or worrying over - this time of year, late winter/early spring. 

Now is the time to start ordering your seeds and creating your garden bed - on the warm days that is. Here are some tips to help you in your planning.


In this post, I go over how we started our no-till garden beds and how you can easily start yours at home, directly in your soil, very inexpensively and effectively. Below, I will touch on another popular method of creating soil to garden in, especially for those in more urban settings with limited space.

I don't use many raised garden beds simply because 1) I like the ease and fertility of using my actual soil, and 2) that would be a LOT of beds for the amount I plant.

However, for those who have limited gardening space, don't know the level of fertility in their soil, and have other constraints, raised garden beds provide the ease and confidence to start growing your own food - and I am all behind that.

Raised beds definitely carry with them some benefits. First, you know exactly what's in your soil, and that can ensure growing success. You also know what's not in there - like weed seeds. You also have the advantage of a few more degrees of warmth both in the spring and fall. On the other hand, it's easier to dry out raised soil and you may need to pay closer attention to watering.

You will find hundreds of raised garden bed designs online as well as many garden bed soil mixes and recipes. You will need to consider the cost to fill your beds, as creating quality soil is not super inexpensive. 

A local, small garden store is your best bet to find the resources and suggestions you need. A very basic mix is one third each compost (any type), vermiculite, and peat moss. This should provide plenty of fertility, aeration, and drainage that your plants needs. Natural materials such as leaves add fertility to the soil, hay or straw sourced locally, and even grass clippings. 


Here are the places I frequently buy seeds from, but there are many great options out there:
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( here is where you will find rare and fun heirloom seeds.
Seed Savers ( a non-profit organization in Iowa that preserves seeds. 
Johnny’s Select Seeds ( premier bulk seeds, and sweet potato slips (many big growers purchase here).
High Mowing Organic Seeds ( high quality seeds, with a larger price tag. 
Dixondale Onions:
Valley Potatoes:
Garlic Farm:


If your soil is covered with mulch, you will not need to water too often. If it hasn't rained in over a week, give your soil an inch or two of water (the soil feels moist up to your first knuckle). A sprinkler, or hose attachment is sufficient. Tomatoes and peppers would rather be watered at their roots than on their leaves. Watering in the evening or morning is best, as the hot sun can evaporate water quickly.


There is one tool I feel is practically all you need, besides your watering tools. That is a soil knife. You may also consider purchasing a harvest knife (Opinel is the best),but kitchen knives and scissors will work fine. If you hope to squeeze out a few more weeks to your garden season in the spring and fall, you can purchase a fabric cover that lets light through, but gives some insulation, called row cover, Remay or AgFabric. 


While you can stick seeds in the soil and cross your fingers, researching just a bit and planning when each seed should be sown is a smart idea. There are plants that can tolerate a heavy frost, a light frost, or may perish if frosted at all. Seeds also germinate (sprout) at different temperatures, so you will get a higher success rate if knowing what temperatures will keep your plants happy. Review this post to learn more about what temperatures each plant tolerates, and plan accordingly. In the simplest terms, your last frost date of spring will dictate when each plant is sown. 

There's certainly more to it than this, but this is a great start. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or sign up for one of my seed courses. 

Happy sowing!

Danielle Olson Jones

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