Garden seed catalogs for the 2013 growing season have arrived–a clear indication it’s time to focus on planning this year’s garden–an essential component to gardening. My 2012 garden continues to grow because of planning, and a mild winter when compared with other areas. Most of the cold weather vegetables have survived the two days of below freezing weather. So, the garden’s spring crop looks a lot like the fall crop–kale, collards and garlic; and the perennial herbs–parsley, sorrel, and Vietnamese coriander. The three-30 gallon trash bags of dried leaves spread over the garden last fall have provided a warm blanket for the garden. Now, this organic matter continues to decompose, becoming a rich humus–the remainder of the decomposed organic matter.
This year’s garden plans incorporate several new activities. The round circular column in the photograph is my first compost heap consisting of alternating layers of vegetation– “green” and horse manure–“brown.” Turning this compost several times during its process has proved challenging, but doable. Each of the three times of breaking it down and stacking again, I have noticed more worms. The worms help in the decomposition, and they have managed to find the compost along with other critters. It is a fascinating process to witness. This compost once added will definitely help the garden’s soil structure.
On the subject of soil structure, it is important to know your type of soil–the holy grail to the gardeners. This is my third year of gardening, and I have decided it is time to have my soil tested to determine its pH reading. “The pH measures the hydrogen ion activity in the soil,” says the University of Maryland Extension School of Home and Garden. A pH of 7 is ideal for most plants. Many gardeners prefer testing the soil’s pH reading in the fall primarily to allow time to adjust the soil before spring planting. However, despite the time of year, it is good to know the pH reading. It’s never too late to apply the ingredients to give your plants the right environment to grow.
Establishing the right soil for plants to grow is the first part of my plan. There are some plants that prefer soil type that is “sweet” (alkaline) or “sour” (acid) soil. So, where to have your soil tested? You can contact Home and Garden Information Center at to request the soil testing kit. There is a nominal charge for this test, and it varies widely. So, you need to determine the type of test you want and how fast you want the results. To get more information, visit–University of Maryland Extension.
Extending the growing season–spring, summer, fall, and possibly through early winter if diligent–is the second part of my plan. Picking fresh herbs in early winter is a treat, and I want to continue to enjoy this. Now, all the herbs are located in a designated area. The herbs have been prolific and hardy. Exploring other herbs to grow is high on my to-do-list. For example, ginger has been added to the list of plants to grow this year. It has a beautiful flower and some many known health benefits of using ginger. An interesting note: 50% of all Chinese herbal medicines include ginger. (If you have any suggestions of other herbs to grow, then please share them.)
Starting more plants from seeds is the third part of my plan. My goal is to get a much wider selection of what you can grow instead of the restriction of what is available locally for transplanting. (Ianlowe provides an excellent method of growing seedlings using plastic bottles.) Also, it gives me an advantage in marketing produce to a local store, and a restaurant both which have purchased vegetables for sale or herbs to include in menu offering. Many of my “unusual” seeds from last year have been stored in a cool dried place and should germinate this year. There are other seeds that can last three years–bean, pea, squash, pumpkin seeds; while white pepper and tomato seeds can last four years. This year I will focus on vegetables difficult to find in the market, or relatively unknown, but high in nutrients and other health benefits. As I have mentioned in a previous post, buying sample packets from Artistic Gardens/Le Jardin du Gourmet is ideal if you wish to buy a small quantity of seeds to explore different vegetables.
Moving on with my three-part plant is my next concern–plant rotation. This process prevents the build up of pests and the depletion of soil nutrients. Luckily, Garden Plan Pro software (see side panel) which I have used for the last three years. It remembers plant location of previous years. So, when you add a plant to your new plan, it warns you if you are planting the same crop family in the same area of the previous year. This makes it easier to plan your new garden, and eliminates the guesswork of plant rotation. Garden Plan Pro software is a wonderful tool. It is installed on my iPad (also available for iPhone) that I take to the garden to make real time plan changes. Still, it works just as well on either a PC, or a Mac. On either, you can print your plan, and then take it with you to the garden. You can update changes later when you return to your computer.
In addition, the Garden Plan Pro software not only provides information about grouping crop families together help, but also proposes methods of fighting bugs specific to that crop. Suggestions range from using organic pest repellents to other techniques for riding garden of pests. Its database of garden plants is a terrific resource, not only informing you of times to plant based on your location, but also recommending when to harvest. Maybe more important, is its “living” database, allowing you to add new plant information as you go along. Yes, it is a valuable tool.
So, its time to gather up all of my tools and head to the garden to sow seeds for Pak choy, tat- soi, mixed salad greens, arugula, and spring peas. Other plants–parsley, rosemary, thyme, sorrel, Vietnamese coriander, winter and summer savory, sage, oregano and tarragon, and mint–are all showing new life. (A side note: to retain the mint from taking over my herbal garden as it did last year, I have placed this herb in a terra-cotta pot, leaving an inch, or two of the pot above the surface of the soil as fellow gardener has instructed.) So, off to the garden I go.