Winter Thaw; Spring Preparation

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Jonathan, a fellow garden sharing his cover crop.

The unseasonably warm weather early this winter has helped to extend  the growing season by using plastic covers and has proved productive.  The winter thaw is near, and spring preparation is at hand.   Mesclun, a mixture of various type of lettuces, has flourished, producing salad greens until the “polar vortex” has ended this crop, arugula, and parsley. Bok Choy and Baby Bok Choy have proved a good choice for growing in colder months.  However, they too could not withstand the cold.  Other plants under the plastic cover–turnips, radicchio, and garlic  continue to flourish. Considering all, I think extending the garden season has been an enlightening experience and one I will repeat thanks to a fellow gardener.

Now, its time to focus on the new gardening season. The arrival of the garden catalogues signal it is time to plan for the 2014 gardening season. High on the list of things to do in photo 1-1preparation for gardening is to clean up garden tools that are often forgotten.  A fellow gardener had sharpened his tool late last year—an idea all of us need to consider doing.  Weeding your garden is easier when your tools are ready for the task despite whether it is digging, cutting weeds, pruning, or harvesting plants. You might visit Grow Veg.Com  to learn tips about maintaining your garden tools. It is a task you will pay off during the growing season.

Soil preparation is the next item on the list. It is never too late to have your soil tested. The recommendation is, however, to have soil tested in the fall of the year. This would give your soil time to establish the correct balance of the three main ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, or N, P, K.  Growing a quantity of vegetables is dependent on the right balance.  If you have been gardening for a while, then you would want to know the nutrient levels before you start to plant your 2014 crops. The University of Maryland Extension School recommends having your soil tested by a professional lab once every three years.  This is on my 2014 fall list of things to do.  This fall soil testing is on my schedule.

Composts

Foreground November compost; Background August compost.

Although it is too late for soil testing, a good alternative to ensure a good balance of three key ingredients is to work compost into the soil.  This is an excellent method of restoring nutrients.  It is often a project you think of later in the growing season because there is more decaying vegetation, consider doing this beginning one in the spring.  You will find readily available the three main “ingredients” of a compost, brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) materials (grass clippings, manure—horse is preferred because it has less additives) and food scraps (no meat).  Starting a spring compost will provide you with additional nutrients to add as needed during the growing season.   Having multiple composts also helps the environment by reducing waste, and reducing the carbon footprint.

Besides composting, companion planting helps your vegetable garden.  Companion planting is a method of one plant shielding another, or each other by repelling pests that would otherwise devastate one.  Plants often act as pest repellant for one another, and they interact with each other improving their growth, and  increasing their productivity.  This notion of plants as protectors of each other is well documented in Peter Tompkins’ book The Secret Life of Plants —   Companion planting replicates what is in the real world. Just as in real life, there are plant companions and adversaries. Researching is important to avoid harming your plants’ growth.  There are many Companion Planting Charts  available online you will find quite helpful.  As the book title suggests, there is much to learn about plants.  You will need to explore and record your success.  Share your findings with me by posting your comments here so others can learn too.

Companion planting will be a central idea this growing season as I try new varieties of vegetables.  This is one of the joys of having a community garden—to grow vegetables unavailable in the local stores.  This also means starting many of my plants from seeds, and will require more thought and planning.  Crop rotation is another factor  to  ensure productive growth.  Using GrowVeg.com planner—available for your iPhone or iPad—has helped me in previous growing seasons.

3 plots for 2014

3 plots for 2014, showing plants from 2013.

It will make this year’s task manageable.  The software alerts you when you need to consider plant rotation in your 2014 garden plans.  Also, providing suggestions as the best time to plant for various times my zone.

As I mentioned earlier, the seed catalogues have arrived—a sign spring is near, and time to begin thinking about ordering seeds, preparing starter plants, and planning the spring crop.  As in previous years, there are three favorite seed catalogues:  Le Jardin du Gourmet—specializing in sample packets of herb, vegetable and flower seeds:”  Jung Seeds & Plants—known for quality seeds, and suggested garden helpers; Johnny’s Selected Seeds (an employee-owned company); and Direct Gardening— —“nine of the largest producers and distributors of home gardening stock.”   Although my garden plans call for vegetables seldom in the local stores, Meyer’s remains a garden center I frequently visit, and a great source of information native to area.photo 2

Well, it’s time to start my planting.

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