Since I currently live in Southern California, I've been only watching and reading about the tough winter this year.  Don't count me among the naive, though.  I was born and raised in upstate New York, and for a number of years lived in Rapid City, South Dakota, so I'm no stranger to winter.

  So my heart is with you as I post these tips to get your garden off on the right foot this year.  Whether you're new to gardening, or a seasoned veteran, I find these tips useful.  These came from Diane at

  - Know where to put your garden bed for maximum sun exposure.  Just walking your yard and taking notes on where the sun is maximized is good.  Once you have the location all picked out you can build your raised bed or just start tilling the soil in the area you want to plant in.

  - Prep your soil.  There are many 'recipes' online for proper nutrient ratios.  I've found the local cooperative extension, 4H, or community college to be excellent sources of local knowledge.  You want your soil all tilled together with the compost a few weeks before you plan on putting plants in the ground.  This will allow time for soil to settle and compost to blend and finish breaking down.

  - Plan what you're going to plant ahead of time.  Do you have the time and indoor space to plant seeds and germinate them, or would you rather buy seedlings from the local nursery?

  - When should you plant?  You need to look  up the last frost date for your area.  Then start researching the best time to plant your crop based on how long it will take to produce a crop and how heat tolerant the plant is.  The Farmers' Almanac is a great resource on proper dates to start planting.  You may also want to start keeping a garden journal, so you can see what you plant, and your successes and failures, from year to year.  Use it to decide next year whether you made the right choices for crops and planting dates.

  Planning your spring garden is a great way to beat the winter blues.  There's nothing wrong with daydreaming every once in a while!