[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of church activities, called Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]
This weekend Christians will celebrate the second Sunday of Advent, marking—with excitement and hope—that we are one week closer to commemorating the birth of our Savior.
Advent, in the Christian sense, is known as a period of waiting and expectation, when we can barely contain our joy over Christ’s birth and our hope of his second coming. We observe this season, appropriately, at a time in the calendar year when the days are at their shortest and light is at a premium; we are reminded of the spiritual darkness that cloaks the world, and we long for more Light to shine forth.
But advents of all kinds, in the sense of something coming into being or beginning, fill our lives no matter the season. And in the colder climes of creation, Advent coincides with the advent of the green and growing world. We tend to think of the dormancy of plants during winter as a conclusion to the garden year. But this period of rest and renewal can also be viewed as a beginning. As we linger now in the Advent of Christ’s coming (the shorter Advent of the holiday season and the longer Advent we live in until he comes again), we also anticipate the coming into being of earth’s green beauty and life-sustaining vegetation. And that advent is the perfect time to plan your the gardens for the coming year.
So whether your church community already cares for an established garden or is considering starting its first this year, use this season of quiet expectancy to plot out your garden calendar for the coming year. Reflect on yesterday’s post on how the rhythms of the garden year remind us of the seasons of the Christian life, and then prepare to live through those seasons with your hands in the dirt—once it thaws, of course!
Making a Garden Calendar
Gather with others who maintain your church’s garden or who are interested in establishing a church garden and establish a physical calendar—whether hard copy or online (a Google calendar can be shared and allows for multiple people to contribute to it)—that will help you organize gardening activities for the coming year. Begin a garden journal, too, so that you can track one another’s activity in the garden and have a record of the year’s gardening joys, challenges, and logistics.
In addition to the following season-by-season recommendations for what to plan in your gardening year, mark slots for dates that are important to your particular region, town, and church, in case the garden space or harvest can be used at those times. Such dates might include:
- important birthdays and anniversaries
- local celebrations, fairs, markets, etc.
- local days of remembrance
- regular public events held by your church
*Gardening plans for each season will vary depending on what part of the world you live in. The following seasonal activities assume a temperate climate with a significant change in seasons, but you may adapt these general suggestions to your particular region. For more specific instructions on gardening season-by-season in your area, visit the website of your local Cooperative Extension System office.
Plan and prepare. That’s the most that a lot of us can do in the cold of winter, but that’s still a lot!
- Choose a garden
o If your church isn’t gardening yet, determine whether it is ready for a garden and what kind of garden might best suit your space, passions, and skills with Flourish’s gardening questionnaire.
- Make a plan
o Determine what roles everyone will play now, so that when the gardening season really gets going and things need to get done quickly you’ll be able to appropriately address them.
o Map out the land available for your garden now, when it’s been pared down to the bare bones by winter and is a clean slate for your imagination. Follow our guide to mapping your garden in winter for some direction.
o Plan a budget for your garden activities, factoring in supplies, seeds, and plants you’ll need to purchase. Consider reducing watering and maintenance costs by planting native plants that are well-suited to your local growing conditions and won’t be too finicky.
- Buy what you need
o Now is the time to order organic and heirloom seeds from companies like Seeds of Change, Renee’s Garden, and Botanical Interests.
o After planning your garden, you’ll know what tools you’ll need for the coming season. Start stocking your tool shed now so that you can break ground as soon as possible.
- Clean up and stay sharp
o Clean existing pots with warm water and a little baking soda to prepare them for new plants.
o Sharpen cutting tools and make sure that all tools are clean and in good working order.
Time to put all that planning into practice!
- Prepare the place
o Clear your garden space of sticks, wet leaves, nuts, and anything else that may have been hiding under months of snow.
o Break ground for your garden beds if you’re just starting them, but not while the soil is still soaked from winter snows or rains. Pick some soil up in your hand and squeeze it together. If the clump easily falls apart when you touch it, the soil is ready for digging.
o Conduct soil tests to determine the pH of your soil, its nutrient levels, and its basic composition. Begin amending your soil according to what it needs.
- Start your seeds
o Many seeds can be started inside before the conditions are stable enough outdoors for them to flourish. Follow our seed-starting guide to get your plants off to a good beginning.
o If you don’t already have one, start a compost pile. Be sure to keep it at a proper nutrient balance and to turn it regularly to ensure decomposition. Follow our composting 101 guide for more tips.
o Plant seeds or the seedlings you’ve already started according to the directions on the packets they came in and your area’s last frost dates (contact your local extension office to get the estimated last date of frost for your area—you want to be specific on this point!).
o Host a Plant Swap to encourage sharing in your community and to get some great new plants into your garden.
Plan for much enjoyment and much work in your summer garden. Get volunteers’ vacation dates on your schedule as soon as possible, so that you can plan to give the garden the full attention it needs in these hot growing months.
- Weed, Feed, and Water
o Summertime in the garden is mostly about upkeep. Keep weeding to give the plants you want free reign of the garden space, and feed plants with compost, Epsom salts, coffee grounds, etc.
o Water plants regularly, and be aware of drought conditions that might warrant more watering of your garden than usual.
- Problem solve
o Use organic solutions for problems like fungus or pests on your plants. Find a variety of organic pest solutions at the Organic Gardening website.
- Keep it up
o Prune or deadhead flowering plants to encourage more growth.
o Continue to add to and turn your compost pile. If you have just started a pile, you probably won’t get usable soil out of it this season, but it’s important to keep it up for next year.
o Harvest edibles as appropriate, and plant new seeds and plants as the growing period allows.
Time to factor harvest and clean up into your church’s gardening calendar. Make plenty of time for preserving your bounty!
o Enjoy picking the last edibles or flowers be used in church events or to brighten the day of an ill or elderly church member.
- Save it for later
o Can, dry, or freeze what you’ve harvested to enjoy throughout the advent of next year’s garden.
o Check out Flourish’s guide to canning tomatoes to get the most out of one particular seasonal goodie.
- Clean up
o Prune perennials and remove dead or diseased foliage from them so that they’ll come back strong next year.
o Pull up annuals.
o In late summer or early fall, divide summer-blooming perennials for a cleaner look in next year’s garden.
o Before the ground freezes, plant bulbs to bloom next spring. Plant them deep to keep them safe from eager squirrels!
o Clean and store rain barrels, tools, hoses, and pots if you live in an area that experiences winter freezes.
When the garden shed is locked up for the season and you find yourselves indoors again, take an inventory of your gardening year. What worked and what didn’t? What were the unexpected challenges and the pleasant surprises? As you are able, start troubleshooting and planning ahead now. And in the meantime, spend another Advent eagerly waiting for those seed catalogs to arrive so that you can do it all over again!
USDA Cooperative Extension Offices
American Community Gardening Association