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Prepping Your Garden for Spring Planting

 
Diggin' in the Dirt

 

I’ve been planning my 2019 garden “grow-list” since summer. Been mulling over varieties I loved, waffling on giving poor-show plants a second chance or not, and basically mapping out 2019 in my garden-crowded head … and dreaming.  Because that’s what we gardeners do. Dream. A lot.

That daydream gardening gets worse in winter when the snow is on the ground and Mother Nature is barren. Those of us who are garden crazy can be found plotting, no pun intended, our coming garden glory and envisioning prize-winners and put-up jars lining our larders. We’ll go through lots of diagrams and plans, trying to fit in just one more tomato plant, one more row of beans, or whatever our obsession is.

So many varieties, so little time and space. And we so badly, so desperately want to grow all the things, to trial this and just a wee seed grow-out of that … I’ve overcrowded my acre garden and have moved to raised beds and container gardening to supplement my habit. And, Lord, help me, I’m studying up on that straw bale gardening method to add even more garden space ... and be able to try more new things!

There are so many options. So many tempting varieties. Like me, you’ve probably poured over those seed catalogs since Christmas, and you've been wishing and waiting. Well, the wait is over. Now you can do more than dream about the coming gardening season. It’s time to drag out those garden tools and get ready for spring planting.

Truly, this year’s garden should have started its preparations last year. But don’t worry. You’ve still got plenty of time to ready your garden. And you must. Because just as you function better when you’re prepared and unencumbered, so too does your garden.

And to maximize your garden this year, we sought out a garden guru, Remy Orlowski. She's the owner of The Sample Seed Shop and is involved in teaching and sharing her garden wisdom in the greater garden community. She was kind enough to "talk gardening" with me and add her helpful hints along with tips 8-10 to help us achieve a thriving garden. We think following these best practices will help your crops be healthier, easier to manage, and more vital this growing season. 

1. Debris, weeds, and supports should be removed (if you haven’t done those tasks yet) 

Pulling up supports and other structures is a great place to start. Remove debris from posts, cages, etc. and be sure to clean them as well, especially when disease was present. A good solution is diluted bleach. That will kill most of the pestilence that plagued your plants. (Homemade tomato cages, left)

Any come-up-lately weeds should be removed— yes, even in early March there are weeds springing up. Pull them up, root and all, to prevent their return. If they are not diseased or from a diseased section, compost them. If you had any blights or problems in that area last year, trash or burn the debris and weeds. You can, however, compost healthy plants and feed that back into the soil for a more bio-available and healthy soil environment.

Clearing out all remaining weeds and debris also cuts down on diseases and pests. Insects can make permanent residences out of these materials and thus can be lessened in number if the garden is kept clean. Trash or burn these as well because they too will carry pathogens you don’t want revived. If you struggle with weeds and pests, a great option is to affix black plastic to desired areas and essentially solarize the soil with that covering. Be sure the covering is held down as tightly and securely as possible. Solarizing “cleans up” the soil, effectively “cooking” the unwanted weed seeds without harmful chemicals. You’ll need hot days for this. If your spring days will not be warm enough to do this before planting, you can do a controlled burn of the top layer of soil.

Remy notes: Another idea for fixing or starting a new bed where you do not plan to plant immediately is to do the newspaper method. The papers should placed out on a day that is not too windy-- at least eight layers deep. The paper should be overlapping so there are no gaps. Water the paper down as you go. Cover with some good soil and/or compost and then mulch. Let that sit for a couple of months. It will kill the grass and weeds underneath. If you go to plant and there are still some live grass roots, either wait a while longer or carefully remove them out of the planting hole (for plants like tomatoes) or area you are planting it in (scattered seeds, etc.).

2. To turn or not to turn: soil tilling

Once the beds/garden area is clean, you will want to turn the soil, working it into a finer texture. You can till or simply get a pitchfork and work the ground several inches below the surface. 8+ inches is best for the most helpful till. This is the garden advice I've always been given, but I have read about no-till being better not to disturb the soil. See Remy's advice below.

Remy notes: After the initial turning over of the ground in a garden area to make it workable, I find there's no reason to deep till. Simply add more compost over the top and work it in a little bit. There have been new studies showing that the microbes in the soil do better with less disturbance.

3. Add in soil conditioning and fertilizing products

Whilst the ground is upturned, this is the perfect time to add in your fertilizers, compost, mulches (non-top layers), and anything you’d like to add for drainage—like sand or larger rocks.

Remy notes: Compost, compost, compost. If you don't make your own, get what you can afford to add. I also use organic granular fertilizer.

4. Prep your tools

Clean your trowels, pruners, and other garden tools and put them in their places so you won’t have to search for them when it’s time to plant. To protect them from rust, rub them lightly with a little vegetable oil on a clean rag or paper towel. Gas up your lawn mower, weed eater, etc.; they’ll run better with fresh fuel. Sharpen hoes, spades, etc. 

 

5. Direct-sow early, cold-hardy crops

With the soil cleaned up, now is a great time to make use of an early spring garden. You can tuck in some bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, and crocus behind your perennial plants. And for early veggies, you can now plant radishes, onions, beets, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, cabbage, greens, lettuce, and several other cool-temp-hardy varieties of plants.

These all grow well under a canvas— or without if the weather cooperates. The end of February, beginning of March is when I sow these plants. I also plant peas. Both in the garden and in trays in the greenhouse for early starts on the season. (Left, peas popping up after an early March planting)

Remy notes: If the weather is not conducive to planting out in the garden, you can plant early season veggies in containers and often very shallow containers work well. Lettuce and spinach can be grown successfully in a few inches of soil. And with the weather still cool, the containers do not dry out too fast (a typical problem when planting in containers).

6. Indoor-sow vegetables and flowers for early transplants

You can sprout seedlings to get ahead of your season for several plants. I have had much success with peas, beans, and even corn as early seedlings alongside more common transplants like tomatoes, peppers, etc.

Remy notes: Some plants cannot sit too long in pots so plan accordingly. Beans-- and veggies in the Cucurbitaceae family (Cucumbers/Melons/Squash) have to be transplanted after a couple of sets of true leaves appear. If they sit in a small pot too long, they will be stunted in growth and not produce in the garden.

 

7.  Take care of over-wintered perennials

Spring is also a great time to plant and prune trees, shrubs, and perennials. And it’s time to divide your perennial plants. Make new plantings or share with friends. You can put a few in containers and let them be ornamental on porches, etc., but watering and maintenance must be followed for success. (Left, overwintered herb bed of sage and oregano before cleanup)

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Tips 8-10 are directly from the Garden Guru Remy. I think these are quite important to follow, especially considering the plight of the bees right now. 

8. Diversify

Plan to grow a diverse group of veggies. This way you'll have successes despite the weather, insects, or other mistakes.

 

9. Attract beneficials

Plan to grow (if you don't already) flowering plants that attract beneficial insects. A patch of herbs or blooming annuals can do a lot to improve the overall health of your garden.

 

 

 

10. Guard your garden 

Thoroughly check fencing for any breaches that may have occurred over the winter. Rabbits are great at finding those spots where they can sneak in and have a feast on newly-planted crops.

There, that wasn’t so hard! Now, kick back, browse those seed catalogs, and make a solid design and schedule for the coming planting season. 

Special thanks to Remy Orlowski from The Sample Seed Shop. Be sure to check her out. She has an amazing selection of seeds, my favorite heirloom tomatoes among them. She offers coveted seeds at low prices, so go crazy like I do and fill your cart with a diverse selection of veggies, flowers, and herbs-- and have a great gardening season!