Even as we enter the depths of winter, local gardeners say it’s not at all too early to be planning ahead for what delicious vegetables or beautiful flowers you could grow this year.
Rice ad Steele County University of Minnesota Agriculture Extension Educator Claire LaCanne said that over the last year, interest in gardening has risen dramatically, with many first timers joining the ranks while others who haven’t maintained a garden in years are also renewing their interest.
Interest in healthy and affordable foods on the rise, but combined with COVID-19, the number of people looking to plant vegetable gardens has increased considerably. In particular, Julie Donahue Zweber, of Faribault’s Donahue’s Greenhouse, said that she’s seen a significant uptick in individuals in their late 20s, 30s and 40s wanting to grow their own vegetables.
Many of those new gardeners seem to be intending to continue their gardens. LaCanne cited a study published in September by the e-newsletter Acres Online which stated that 70% of first time gardeners in 2020 plan to continue gardening.
Local gardener Cathy Hoban, a master gardener, said that interest in the Master Gardeners intern program has also increased. The local group has grown to about 30 members and 13 have applied to join the program this year. Hoban, a longtime gardener who completed the Master Gardeners program four years ago, said that the internship has been extremely well received in the community. It includes 50 hours of education and 50 hours of volunteering.
Interns have the opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade from experienced master gardeners. Once the internship is complete, master gardeners can stay part of the group by completing at least 25 hours of volunteering and five hours of ongoing education each year. The program has managed to not only survive, but thrive despite having to go largely virtual. She said it provides information for all gardeners on topics including horticulture skills, pollinators, plant biodiversity, nearby nature, clean water, climate change and local food.
For those unwilling to take on such a big commitment, Hoban argues that gardening can still make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, she said that many people are under the mistaken impression that they are unable to garden because of a lack of space.
“You can do a lot with a small space,” she said. “It doesn’t just have to be flowers.”
In order to make a small garden work, Hoban said that gardeners will have to be discerning. Vegetables generally need plenty of sunlight (at least six hours/day), and some need more space than others, so gardeners will want to be careful that what they’re planting can work in the space available.
Along with sunlight, soil quality is a crucial factor for a healthy garden. Hoban recommended that gardeners use a bit of organic fertilizer, such as grass clippings, to ensure that the plant has the nutrients needed to grow.
Eric Cornell, who owns Owatonna’s Turtle Creek Nursery, said the phone doesn’t typically start ringing at the nursery until February, though that’s well before it opens in April. Nonetheless, he said that gardeners would be smart to start thinking about the growing season now.
For some plants, Cornell said it may be helpful to start the growing process indoors as early as March. In preparation for that, he said that growers may want to make sure they have all of the needed supplies, including a heating mat, cell trays and a dome.
For gardeners interested in trying out new varieties of plants, Cornell said this is a great time to start looking. Once gardeners have identified the varieties they wish to grow, they’ll have a better sense of when the growing season needs to start.
Hoban added that new gardeners could also take this time to see exactly what could work in the space they have available. Gardeners interested in growing flowers may want to see which colors and varieties would go best together.
“Right now is an ideal time to start planning your garden,” she said.