Monday, May 9, 2016

Prepping Garden for Spring Planting

Most folks choose to work the soil before planting spring crops, and it’s important to time this step correctly. Work the earth when it’s too wet (e.g., from melting snow), and you risk compacting the soil, which makes it more difficult for plants to grow.18 To determine if the soil is dry enough to work it, conduct this soil test from Rodale’s Organic Life:19
Pick up about half a cup of earth in your hand. Now squeeze the soil together so that it forms a ball. If the ball of earth can readily be shattered by pressing with your fingers or dropping it from a height of 3 feet or so, it is dry enough to dig. If the ball keeps its shape or breaks only with difficulty into solid sections rather than loose soil, it still contains too much water.
Once the soil is dry enough, you’re ready to break it up. If you planted cover crops, be sure to start working the soil several weeks before planting in order to mix in the cover crops so they have time to decompose in the soil.20 If you didn’t plant cover crops, start by removing weeds and other dead plant matter; you can choose to compost these or mix them into the soil.21 Whether you used cover crops or not, be sure to use a broad fork to break up the soil so it’s more hospitable to new plantings.

Amend the Soil

“Amending” the soil is just a fancy way of saying “add whatever you need to in order to create a nutrient-rich environment for plants.” While synthetic fertilizer options abound, your soil and the surrounding ecosystem will be much healthier – and stay that way – if you stick with organic fertilizer options.22 As an added bonus, organic fertilizers tend to be much cheaper than synthetics.
Conducting a soil test before planting helps you discover which nutrients the soil is lacking. That information can help direct you toward an appropriate fertilizer option(s).23 The best organic fertilizer options are:

Compost

Because it’s incredibly rich in nutrients, compost is a great way to improve soil’s health in every way, from providing crops with the nutrition they need to improving water drainage.24 Some sources suggest that gardeners apply one inch of compost to the top of the soil, while others advise incorporating a few inches of compost deeper into the soil.25 You can make your own compost from kitchen and yard scraps or seek out compost from local farmers.

Grass clippings

Similar to compost, grass clippings supply a garden with nutrients.26 They can also be used like a mulch cover to slow weed growth and improve the soil’s ability to store water. Many communities offer free yard waste compost; check with your local municipality to explore your options. You can also collect grass clippings from neighbors; just be sure not to use grass from lawns that have been treated with herbicides. Mix a half-inch of clippings into the soil or add one to two inches of clippings on the surface.27

Mulch

Mulch can be made from a variety of organic matter, including shredded leaves, hay, and grass clippings.28 Applying one inch (or more) of mulch on top of the soil provides a steady stream of nutrients as the mulch decomposes. Many gardeners choose to use mulch in conjunction with compost to create exceptionally healthy soil.

Create a Planting Calendar

Regardless of whether you start seedlings indoors or purchase small plants to transplant into your garden, it’s important to plant them at the right time. Cool-season crops – which include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, and onions – can be planted early in the season.29Warm-season crops – which include eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes – should be planted only after there’s no risk of frost (typically toward the end of May).30
When you transplant crops, it’s important to “harden off” any seedlings that you started indoors before planting them in the garden.31 Do this by setting them outside in the shade for an hour or two for the first couple of days, and then gradually increasing their time outside over the course of a week.32 That way, when it comes time to transplant them in the garden, they should be hardy enough to survive the outdoors.
No matter what you plant, remember to rotate your crops’ placement to avoid planting the same items in the same place each year.33 A failure to rotate crops can result in a higher incidence of pests and diseases and can deplete the soil over time. It can help to create a written record of what you’ve planted and where so you can compare your garden’s successes and challenges over time.34
It may seem like a lot, but investing some time in late-winter garden prep helps ensure your garden can provide a healthy home for your crops come spring. The payoff is worth it – both your wallet and your health will benefit from growing organic produce at home.

Source: Fix.com Blog

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