By Philip Case

Contributing Writer

While the weather outside still has the potential to be frightful, preparing for your 2019 garden can shift our focus to things more delightful.

Even if your garden is just a few tomato plants by the porch or in containers, planning helps make the operation go better when we get to planting time, which isn’t all that far away.

If, however, you’re planning to cultivate and raise a big in-ground garden or utilize raised beds, then it will be easier if you have a plan in mind and do as much preliminary work as possible.

Ask yourself — and work to answer — some of these questions:

• How large will my garden be, especially if it’s of the in-ground variety? The potential for a big garden is much like what’s said of a buffet — it’s easy for your “eyes to be bigger than your stomach” and remember what you plow and plant in the cool of spring will need to be cultivated, weeded, fertilized and watered in the boiling heat of summer.

I have been caught in this trap many times — and was even last summer. Just try to be realistic and reasonable: if you’re raising a garden for two people, you’re not likely to need two dozen tomato plants unless you have a lot of tomatoless friends, or plan do a lot of canning and freezing.

• Select what you want to plant in the garden. In other words, what do you like to eat? Don’t plant what you don’t plan to use. There are many online sites and books that provide proposed garden plots in all sizes. If you’re uncertain, have a look at one of them. You can grow a lot in a small space – and more in a big one!

• Choose a site and prepare your ground. Look around the patch and determine if there are potential problems like low areas that might retain water and thus be wet all summer or trees that will provide too much shade for sun-loving plants.

Are there black walnut trees within 100 feet of the garden? A chemical in the roots, buds and nut hulls — juglone — is very detrimental to tomatoes, for instance. Avoid those sites or check online for veggies that aren’t impacted.

• Prepare your site as soon as it’s feasible. I recommend plowing or roto-tilling in January or February so the ground has time to freeze and thaw before early-spring planting.

If you’re utilizing containers or very small spaces, this step isn’t as crucial since the soil can be turned over quickly with a few flicks of the wrist and a spading fork.

• Select the varieties you want to grow and consider raising your own plants if you’re really into gardening.

• Optional but I believe helpful: Follow my planting by the phases of moon and signs of the zodiac column appearing each weekend in The State Journal or follow it on my Facebook page, Planting by the Signs. There’ll be lots of information there about when to plant what, according to phases and signs, and other gardening tips, too.

For those who are into early gardening, the time to begin is upon us. If tomatoes and green beans are your thing, you have a while yet.

Just remember: It’s never too early to plan and planning helps the dark days seem brighter!