A man sitting on bench outdoors in a green garden and smiles at camera.

Let’s Grow Stuff: Get Your Season Started Right

January 25, 2021 Benjamin Futa Leave a Comment

The PBS Wisconsin blog greets a new author this week — Ben Futa, host of Let’s Grow Stuff. This is the first in an ongoing series of blog posts by Ben to get us excited about gardening!


Winter is the season of dreaming, planning and preparation. It’s a time for gardeners to take stock of what’s worked for us in prior seasons, envision what we might change and figure out exactly what we’ll need to make those changes happen. Winter planning is a testament that you don’t necessarily need to be moving soil to connect with your garden. In this spirit, here are five things you can do right now — even with snow on the ground! — to get your season started right:

  1. Make a list of your wins and misses from last year. Did you plant just enough potatoes . . . not enough green beans . . . or did the rabbits beat you to the radishes? Personally, I find it helpful to write everything down because this becomes my checklist for change as I start to sketch a plan.

  2. Sketch a map of your garden. A sketch helps you visualize your garden and begin to see how your wish list could become reality. Don’t worry about how it looks. This isn’t about art — it’s a planning tool. If you remember what you grew where last year, make a note on your map. This will come in handy when you make decisions about planting locations this year, which leads us to . . . 

  3. Crop rotation. Rotating your crops is a good practice for any vegetable gardener. Growing the same type of plant in the same space several years in a row can increase the chance for pests and diseases. Rotating crops helps prevent this, and also promotes healthier soil and better harvests. Why? Because certain plants add beneficial nutrients that a variety of plants will need.

    A drawing of plants that humans eat split into four categories

    Generally speaking, the plants we eat can be grouped into four broad categories: legumes, fruits, leaves and roots. Depending on what you grow and like to eat, and the size of your garden, you may not grow a plant in every category, and that’s ok. The important thing is to change where each type of plant grows from one season to the next. If you grow a crop in each of the four categories, it could take up to four seasons before you grow tomatoes in the same place again.

  4. Great tools can help make gardening a lot easier and taking care of your tools is important. At the end of a long growing season, it can be easy to just toss them in a corner and forget about them until spring. The trouble is we may not be able to find our trusty trowel when it’s time to plant and we end up buying another one . . . oops. Winter is a great time to take a couple hours and get organized. It’s also a great time to clean, sharpen, and repair any tools you *really* loved. We’ll cover this in a future episode of Let’s Grow Stuff, stay tuned! This is also a perfect moment to take stock of your basic supplies like twine, stakes, fencing and so on. Is there anything you need to replenish?

  5. Finally, now is the time to think about ordering your seeds. Seed companies often sell out quickly, and this year is no exception. Gardening is gaining in popularity as many more individuals are spending greater amounts of time at home. Getting your order in by February 15th is a safe bet to ensure you get what you want: sooner is better. Begin by revisiting your list from step one. Is there something you absolutely must grow again? Make a note on your garden sketch where you plan to plant it. We’ll share some of our favorite plants, new introductions, and how to order seeds in an upcoming blog post.

Well, there you have it: five essential steps to kick off your gardening season. We’ll be back soon with more tips to help set you up for success in the garden this year. In the meantime, happy planning, and let us know what else you’d like to learn about this year on Let’s Grow Stuff!


Don’t forget!

Register now for the free Garden & Landscape Expo (Feb. 20-21) at wigardenexpo.com. All attendees who register by Jan. 31 will be eligible to win one of three virtual meet and greets with Wisconsin Public Radio host Larry Meiller and a painting by Wisconsin artist Bethann Moran-Handzlik. Virtual attendees of this free event will enjoy two full days of live and interactive educational sessions with experts and gardening professionals. In addition, there will be a live online exhibitor mall, virtual garden tours captured at the peak of the summer and autumn seasons, opportunities to pose questions to UW-Madison Horticulture Division of Extension experts in open Q&A forums, special activities for kids and families, and a beautiful garden photo competition. Registered participants can start exploring the full schedule and planning their experience online now.

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