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Grow Your Self Podcast
Published January 9, 2024 by Nicole Burke

How to Make 2024 Your Best Year in the Garden

Filed Under:
garden planning
2024 garden
garden inspiration
garden seasons
kitchen garden
vegetable garden
how to plan your garden season by season

Let's Grow More in 2024!

I'm going to show you how you can grow more in your 2024 garden than you ever have before. This year, I'm challenging myself to grow more of my own food and replace more of my groceries in the new year. And you can do this too. Don't worry, I've got the step by step to make that happen. I've giving you all the details that I usually reserve for my students inside Kitchen Garden Academy.

So grab some paper and a pen, and download your free Garden Calendar to help you plan out your entire year in the garden.

I'm on a mission this year to help everyone grow a little bit more of their own food. We should all be doing this. Why? Because we humans developed into thriving species (well... somewhat thriving) when we learned how to grow our own food. It's part of who we are. Plus, the food you grow yourself tastes so good. It's good for your body, and it also is good for you mentally/ emotionally/spiritually to be more connected with the food you eat.

And I'm about to convince you that growing some of your own food is not that hard to do.

Use this free resource to help you plan your year in the garden

Download Your 2024 Garden Calendar

The 2024 Gardenary Planting Calendar is a customizable calendar. All you have to do is put in two dates, and then we do all the rest of the hard work for you. We'll show you all the dates that you need to know when to plant what, no matter where you live.

First, Pick Your Why

Figure Out What Will Motivate You to Garden

The first step has nothing to do with the plants or your methodology, and everything to do with your head. I'm a big fan of Simon Sinek's book Start with Why. He says that instead of thinking about the what or the how, you have to think about the why.

Why is that? Because as human beings, we hate change. We dread doing new things. And so if you really want to see change (and growing more in your garden is certainly a change for the better), then you have to motivate yourself. And the way you can motivate yourself is with a WHY.

So first things first, pick your WHY. Why do you want to grow more in 2024?

There was an audio trending on Instagram recently of Eddie Murphy saying, "Seventy five years. That's how much time you get if you're lucky: 75 winters, 75 springtimes, 75 summers, and 75 autumns... Don't waste them." Ugh, this quote really hit me in the heart. It's so easy to miss a season in the garden. The only way to experience each season fully is to watch it unfold in real time, in the dirt with the plants.

Your WHY could be to slow down and soak in what's occurring each and every one of those seasons. Because we can't take it for granted that we may only have 75 of those. Missing one is a big deal.

vegetable garden planning

My WHYs

I have two. The first is to be as healthy as I possibly can. I just turned 45, and I'm hoping I get more than 75 years—90 would be great. So I'm truly midlife now. I started this thing when I turned 44 that I called Project 45. The idea is to focus on things I can do this year that will make the latter half of my life stronger/healthier/better. What changes can I make to serve my future self?

The garden is a huge part of being as healthy as possible. I honestly think the most underrated way to get healthy in 2024 is by starting a garden. People will tell you to work out, eat better, meditate more, take more time for yourself to rest and de-stress. You could do all those things individually, or you could just have a garden.

When you have a garden, you're going to move your body, eat more veggies, be outside, clear your head, learn new things. I mean, it literally ticks all the boxes of getting healthy, and it all can happen just right there in that one space, right in your backyard.

My second WHY is to inspire as much as possible. When I celebrated my 45th birthday, I asked myself: What is a word that gets me up in the morning, that pushes me to work harder? And I realized that what's kept me going over the years both in my business and as a mom is to inspire others. I want to show what's possible, to push the limits, to help others see things differently, to motivate people to take action in their own lives.

In 2024, I want to get you out of your rut, inspire you to stop doom scrolling, and energize you to go out to your garden, that little space of your own.

garden goals for the year

Prefer to Watch?

This Is How You Stay Motivated in 2024

I can tell you after having gone through many seasons in the garden, I start so well in January. I have all the organizational skills and the energy. By March or April, it's a hot mess, and I've completely forgotten about all the goals I set in January. My videographer Molly and I were just talking about how we both quit growing our own sprouts, even though we were so Team Sprouts back in January. Sprouts are easy to grow. We both know how delicious and nutritious they are. And yet we both quit.

Why? Because we got busy doing other things. And that's why you should come up with a WHY. Your WHY is like a plumb line to bring you back to center.

Your WHY can be so simple. It could be something environmental. Maybe you want to take care of the birds or the bees or the butterflies.

It could be about production. Maybe you want to replace a certain amount of your grocery store produce.

It could be economical: Maybe you want to find a certain amount of money growing in your own backyard.

It could be relational. Maybe you want to connect with your children or your neighbor or your spouse out in the garden space.

It could be aesthetic. Maybe you want more color in your life. You want to have a beautiful place to land your eyes on during the day.

It can be anything you want it to be, but it needs to be something that will motivate you, that will get you out there when you're busy, when you're tired, when it's September and your New Year's resolutions are far behind you.

Write your WHY down, in a journal if you have one. You're really at least 50% of the way to growing more in 2024 just by gaining this motivation.

how to stay motivated in the garden

Next, Set Your What

Set Your Goals for the Year

I'd like you to set three goals for the year, just three. Now, if you're like me, you might be able to come up with about 3,000. I never lack for goals. My problem is execution. I read this wonderful book called The 12-Week Year by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington. They talk about breaking the year up into quarters and viewing every 12-week period as a year in its entirety.

Shortening the year like this allows you to see results and feel the urgency of time passing. It also allows you to complete cycles faster because 52 weeks is way too long to wait for a goal to come true. If you break your year up into quarters, you can see the results of your actions so much faster, and then you can iterate and make it better the next time around.

You can pick three goals for each 12-week period in the garden or for the entire year. Either way, your goals will keep you focused and help you remember what's necessary. I have what I call "shiny object syndrome", which means I decide I need to be growing my own ginger because I saw someone do it on Instagram. Or I suddenly feel the need to plant 1,000 tulips in my yard because it looked so pretty when another gardener did it on YouTube. Every new video adds to the overwhelm and the list of responsibilities you have in your garden, and suddenly you just don't do anything because you have way too many goals.

I highly recommend that at least one of your goals is about eating because we are kitchen gardeners, and food is the focus. The other two goals should be ones you know will motivate you and help you keep going.

how to stick to resolutions for the garden

My Goals

My number one goal is to—no surprise—eat a green I grew every single day of the year, whether that's microgreens and sprouts in the winter, spring mix in the fall, kale in the spring, arugula and mustard greens in the summer. I have a plan to make this happen. It's really just following Steps One, Two, and Three in my book, Leaves, Roots, and Fruit. So that's my production goal. Will I still grow cucumbers and tomatoes and beans? Yes, of course, but I want to be sure that I have a homegrown green in my tummy every day.

My next goal is to grow more from seed. Last year, I started all my tomatoes from seed, as well as almost all my peppers and herbs. And I learned a lot about seed starting. I aim to grow almost everything from seed for my garden, with the exception of a few flowers that it's already too late to start indoors.

My third goal is to have flowers, flowers, and more flowers. This was a goal for me in 2023, but I fell short. I filled my native plant space with too many grasses and not enough flowers. So I'm making a plan now to add lots more flowers to each season of my garden. I want to have a bouquet, or at least something I can cut and bring indoors, every single day, from April to October.

Okay, so pick your three goals—your WHAT—and write them down.

Leaves, Roots & Fruit Teaches You the Step by Step to Grow as a Gardener

Do you dream of walking through your own kitchen garden with baskets full of delicious food you grew yourself?

Nicole Johnsey Burke—founder of Gardenary, Inc., and author of Kitchen Garden Revival—is your expert guide for growing your own fresh, organic food every day of the year, no matter where you grow. More than just providing the how-to, she gives you the know-how for a more practical and intuitive gardening system.

Lastly, Determine Your When

Figure Out Your Growing Seasons and Planting Dates

You've got your WHY and your WHAT. Now it's time to look at your WHEN. I'm a big fan of the book When by Daniel H. Pink. It's so powerful. He talks about how the timing of something can be as critical as the what and the why and the how. I've definitely found that to be true in the garden. I'm sure you have, as well.

Here's an excerpt from the "Plan" chapter of my book Kitchen Garden Revival to kick us off:

Picture your kitchen garden as a guest house for plants. Each guest has particular needs and wants: this much space to spread out, this much time to stay, and the temperature just so. Plant guests can be like my kids: picky. By learning your climate's temperature, rainfall, and sunlight measurements for each month, you're going to know best which guests can stay each month and for how long. Consider this step as the booking calendar for your garden, deciding which plants are welcome to stay and which ones just might not be made for your house.
Lots of gardening experts are going to tell you to learn your "zone" before planting, but honestly, garden zones are much too general to inform you of what's technically possible in the unique space you've created. I've gardened in so many different climates, and what the books say I can do in a particular zone and what I experience in my garden are often two very different things. Plus, gardening zones specify a first and last frost date as the most significant times of the year, leading people like you to believe that they can only grow between those two days, when in truth the only information that the frost date reveals is when the cool season ends and the warm season begins.
There's so much more to the kitchen garden than zones and frost dates, and this is why, over the years, I developed my kitchen garden seasons system. The best way to know what's possible in your unique garden is to know your garden seasons, and the best way to know your seasons is to understand the general weather for each month of the year. This exercise is so much more detailed than a zone number and will be way more specific and helpful to your unique location.

Sound good? Let's figure out your seasons.

ignore your gardening zone and figure out your garden seasons instead
plant decorator
Quoter avatar.

There's so much more to the kitchen garden than zones and frost dates, and this is why, over the years, I developed my kitchen garden seasons system. The best way to know what's possible in your unique garden is to know your garden seasons.

Nicole Burke in Kitchen Garden Revival

Step One to Understand Your Garden Seasons

First, look up the month when your last frost is expected for 2024. My last anticipated frost in Nashville is in April (it was May back in Chicago and February in Houston).

Next, look up the month when you can expect your first frost of the fall. My first anticipated frost in Nashville is in late October (it was early October back in Chicago and December in Houston).

how to determine your garden seasons

Step Two to Understand Your Garden Seasons

You can now label your garden seasons for the entire year using your first and last frost months.

Warm Season

Let's start with your last frost date. Whenever that occurs (hopefully it's before June if you live in the Northern Hemisphere; otherwise, yikes!), that's when your warm season starts. The month you expect your first frost is when your warm season ends. Got it?

Hot Season

The middle of those two months will look different depending on where you live and garden. If you're in a cool area like Chicago, those months in between your last frost and your first frost will all be the warm season. It's never going to get super hot.

If you live in a milder climate like Nashville, you might have one month around July or August when it gets a little too hot for the warm season plants to be happy.

If you live in a really warm climate like Houston, you'll have what's called a hot season in the middle of two warm seasons, from about June to August. That means it's gonna be real hot, pretty much unbearable, for a bit because your average high temps are in the 90s or higher every single day. Again, not everyone has a hot season.

Cool Season

Your cool season typically starts about three months before your warm season begins, so in the late winter or early spring. In other words, your cool season occurs during those three months leading up to your last frost date. The three months after your first frost date are also cool season months.

Cold Season

The cold season is when the average high temp is rarely above freezing.

If you're in a warmer climate like Houston, you won't have a cold season. You're just going to hang out in the cool season for your winter months. You might have a little frost, but it's no biggie.

If you're in a milder climate like Nashville, you might have a month or two of what might be considered a cold season, maybe around January. So far, I haven't experienced a true cold season in Nashville, and I hope not to.

As you move further north to places like Chicago, you'll hit the cold season around December and stay there till February. You've got a solid three months inside the cold season.

garden seasons

Step Three to Understand Your Garden Seasons

Do you see how knowing your seasons helps you visualize the entire year? The way you move from seasons—cold, cool, warm, hot, warm, cool, cold—is what I call the Arc of the Seasons.

This is what a typical year looks like in Houston: You begin the year in the cool season. By March, you're already in the warm season, and the summer is the hot season. The fall brings you back to the warm season, and then you start the cool season over again in December. Cool, warm, hot, warm, cool.

Now, let's do Nashville: You begin in the year in a quasi-cold season before moving quickly to cool. The summer is warm, with one little eek of hot season. Then you go back to warm and eventually cool again. Nashville is essentially a two-season place. We spend the majority of our time in either the cool or warm season, with just a little peek into the hot and cold.

Here's Chicago: You start the year off in cold, then go to cool, then warm, back to cool, and right back to cold. So cold, cool, warm, cool, cold.

What does your arc look like?

arc of the seasons for a cold climate

How to Figure Out What to Do Each Month of the Year

Now that you know your seasons for the entire year, let's talk about what to do each and every month as you move through the seasons. I like to see each season as a five-month process.

I know, you're thinking, "Nicole, I don't have five months of summer. I don't have five months of spring." And I get it. I'm not saying you do. Each season will have three months that are the heart of the season and then one month of overlap before and after the season. I'm also speaking mostly about the cool and warm seasons. Those are really our best times for growing.

Here is what the five-month season looks like:

Month One: Prep

This is the month to prepare for the upcoming season. In Chicago, I began getting ready for my cool season in February, when it was still really cold out, because the temps would begin to rise above freezing in March. Here in Nashville, my prep month for the warm season is March because the threat of frost passes in April.

Month Two: Plant

This is the month to plant things that will grow well in the current growing season.

Month Three: Tend

The focus this month is pruning, supporting, and feeding the plants while they grow.

Month Four: Harvest

Your focus this month is harvesting all of the things you planted in month two.

Month Five: Clear

You'll continue to harvest and tend your garden, but you'll slowly pull plants from the garden to make room for next season's plants.

how to grow more in your garden

Now, you're really doing every single one of those tasks in each month, right? It's just you have one main focus. I liken it to wearing many hats in your day-to-day life. I'm a writer, a business owner, a mom, a wife, etc. I have a lot of responsibilities, but at any given time, I have to hone in on one main task. I'm in mom mode or recording mode or writing mode. The same is true in the garden.

So that five-month process is prep, plant, tend, harvest, and clear. Every season should have about five months of work that we do. If you have two cool seasons, then you'll do this process twice each year. If you have a really long cold or hot season, you might do the full process for them, as well.

Of course, you don't have 20 months in the year. These seasons overlap one another. When you're in the fifth month of one season, you might be in the third or fourth month of the next season.

Let's look at an entire year together as an example.

how to plan your gardening seasons
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One Year in the Garden

I'm going to lay out what this five-month process looks like for each and every month in the garden in Nashville, starting with January.

January

Let's say you already have garlic, tulips, rhubarb, and asparagus planted in the garden—these plants can all survive the cold season. You also have herbs and peppers you're overwintering indoors. Your focus this month is tending these plants that you already planted.

February

It's freezing cold outside, but you'll get to harvest from the herbs you brought indoors, as well as from any of your indoor gardening projects you started, like microgreens or sprouts. While you're harvesting your cold season plants, you're prepping for the cool season. You'll soon be growing greens, root crops, peas, and fava beans.

March

This month is your planting time for the cool season. The plants you started indoors in February will be moved to the garden so they can start growing and thriving in that spring sun. While you're planting, believe it or not, you're prepping for the warm season, which is only 60 days away. You'll start seeds for your large warm season plants indoors.

April

In the fourth month of the year, you're tending your cool season plants in the garden. You're pruning, keeping an eye out for pests, and making sure those plants are growing to their fullest potential. During this time that you're tending, you're also planting out your warm season plants as soon as the threat of frost has passed. Basically, you'll hit your last frost date and find empty spots in your garden to squeeze in your warm season plants.

month-by-month steps to plan your garden for the year visual

May

It's finally time to harvest your cool season plants. Of course, you've been harvesting from these plants in the past couple of months, but May is when this garden season really comes to fruition. The garden is exploding with loads and loads of harvests for you to enjoy. Meanwhile, you're making room for more warm season plants each time you remove a cool season plant. You're also tending the warm season plants that went into the garden the previous month. It's their turn to be pruned, fertilized, protected from pests, and supported on trellises.

June

This is the month to clear out any cool season plants remaining in the garden. You're moving further away from the last frost, and the temperatures are no longer conducive to plants that like cooler weather. Harvest your last few bits, and then clear those plants from the garden. Now you can let your warm season plants take over. They'll have plenty of room to do their thing, and you can begin to harvest from them.

July

By July, you're past the summer solstice. The days have gotten as long as they're going to get, and we're already heading back toward darker, cooler days. The focus this month is primarily on harvesting your warm season plants. Some will take longer to produce than others, but there should be something to harvest each and every day of this season. And while you're harvesting these warm season plants, it's already time to start your cool season plants indoors. What?! Yes, really.

August

You can still harvest from your warm season plants in August. I actually gave you three months to focus on harvesting for the warm season because these plants can spend a long time bearing fruit. While you're harvesting, you're planting out your cool season plants because it's time to transition from warm to cool. Each time you harvest from a plant or pull a plant, you're making room for the next season's plants to go in. New plants will include greens, celery, parsley, dill, cilantro, radishes, and carrots. Those all go in the garden around the warm season plants that you're harvesting from.

month-by-month steps to plan your garden for the year visual

September

The ninth month of the year is the time to clear out those warm season plants. Take as much as you can from plants when you harvest, and as soon as it's past their optimal season of growing, pull them from the garden to make room for cool season plants. Your focus for the cool season plants is tending. You're pruning, checking for pests on the leaves, trellising your peas, and making sure that these cool season plants will thrive.

October

It's time to harvest those cool season plants—the leafy greens, root crops, peas, and fava beans. You're heading toward your first frost of the year, so the days are getting shorter and cooler, and you're making the most of every moment as you head toward the coldest part of the year.

November

Time to clear your cool season plants, at least the ones that aren't going to survive through the coldest part of the year and the ones that look spent. Begin prepping for whatever it is you want to do to endure the cold season. Maybe you plant some garlic in your raised beds or add perennials like asparagus, rhubarb, or fruit bushes. Pull up some of your herbs and peppers to overwinter indoors.

December

December is when you'll tend the simple things you've set up for the cold season. Make sure the garlic you planted isn't exposed to the cold. Tend the spinach that's growing in a cold frame or greenhouse.

Fast forward and we're back to January, the start of the year, when it's time to tend those things that you planted in December. And that is the entirety of the year.

month-by-month steps to plan your garden for the year visual

That Is How You Plan Your Kitchen Garden for the Entire Year

That's your step by step to growing more in 2024. As you can see, there's something to plant, tend, and harvest every single month of the year, even in a place that gets frost from the end of October all the way to April. There might be frost or snow on the ground, but there is still so much to be growing and planting each and every month of the year.

Take these steps and apply them to your area. Label each month with the focus for the cool and warm seasons: prep, plant, tend, harvest, and clear.

Hopefully, you saw as I worked through my Nashville example how the seasons overlap one another. As you're planting for one season, you're clearing the last one. As you're tending for one season, you're prepping for the next one. As you're harvesting from one season, you're planting or tending for the following one. And even as you're harvesting from one season, you're tending the next season's plants right alongside them.

how to transition your garden from season to season

You Can Grow Way More Months of the Year Than You Might Think

This is how we grow more, not just in 2024, but for many years to come. The answer to getting more out of your space, to having more food that you grew with your own hands in your very own garden, is timing. Grow each and every plant in its optimal season, and never let the garden be bare.

When I first started gardening in Nashville, I'd just grow for the summer, so from about June to August. But when I moved to Houston, I realized that June and August were the hardest months of the year to garden there. The temps were high, the humidity was high, and the rain was unpredictable. I remember thinking, "Wow, if I've only got June to August to garden here in Houston, I'll be so sad."

I started experimenting with growing for more months of the year, planting earlier in the spring and later into the fall. And what I found was that there was actually so much more potential for growing each and every month of the year. The summer is really just a sliver of possibility.

I took that mindset with me when I moved to Chicago. When my neighbors said, "Don't plant a thing until after Mother's Day," I didn't listen. I put into practice the lessons I'd learned in Houston and tried to plant and grow something in the garden every single month. And I'm so proud to say that my Chicago garden had something to harvest from February all the way through December. January was the only month of the year when the garden was bare, and that's only because I chose not to do cold frames or frost cloth in the garden. If I'd utilized covers, I could have had things to harvest from the garden even in January.

I came full circle when I moved back to Nashville after 12 years. There's no stopping me now. I can grow something every single month of the year, even in a place that has a chance of frost for five to six months out of the year. If I could grow that much in Chicago, I can grow that much more here in Nashville.

timing is one of the main keys to success in the garden

Time to Plan Out Your 2024 Garden

I know I really got into the nitty gritty of figuring out your timing in the garden. I want to make this info accessible to everyone so that we can all grow more in our gardens this year.

If anything regarding the five-month process wasn't clear, make sure to download the free calendar before. Having that as a guide should help you see how the process will work in your garden.

I cannot wait to hear the goals that you've set for yourself and the reason you want to grow more in 2024. Come find me on Instagram @gardenaryco if you haven't already so you can tell me your garden goals.

Together, I know we can encourage each other to keep going when it gets hot, when it gets cold, when things don't work out. If we have our WHY and our goals settled right now, there is nothing that can stop us from growing so much more in 2024!

Use this free resource to help you plan your year in the garden

Download Your 2024 Garden Calendar

The 2024 Gardenary Planting Calendar is a customizable calendar. All you have to do is put in two dates, and then we do all the rest of the hard work for you. We'll show you all the dates that you need to know when to plant what, no matter where you live.

How to Make 2024 Your Best Year in the Garden