Plan. Successful gardens are always in the planning stage. As spring rolls around your garden is waking up, and so are the insects that inhabit it. Plan to take a daily tour of your garden to be on the lookout for pesky creatures, and be prepared to take action if necessary. Pill bugs, slugs, and snails cause lots of problems, so have your traps and baits at the ready. Continue to update your garden journal with observations, weather notes, and planting times, and check your area’s recommendations for what and when to plant. Spring can be filled with late season cold snaps. Be ready to protect your plants! Find out what zone you live in and the best way to protect your plants for your zone.
Prepare & Maintain. If you planted winter cover crops, cut them down and turn them into the soil two weeks before planting. Turn your compost pile, start a new one, and add compost around your plants. Fertilize veggies with an organic foliar feed to keep them healthy.
Compost Prep. Rich organic compost is fantastic food for your future garden. It does take some time to “make” though, so we suggest starting now. You’ll need some readily available ingredients: yard & kitchen waste, air and water. You’ll also need a place to put your compost, whether a pile or a bin. There are several compost bins available on the market, not to mention you can make your own compost bin.
If you opt for a compost pile, you need a space roughly three feet by three feet. Then, simply spread several inches of dry, brown material, such as leaves, cornstalks or straw. Add several inches of green material, such as kitchen waste (vegetable peelings and fruit rinds, no meat scraps!). Next, add a thin layer of garden soil and another layer of brown material. Moisten, but do not soak, the pile. Repeat until your compost pile is at least three feet tall.
Turn your compost pile every other week, making sure to move the material at the center of the pile outward and the outermost material toward the center. Keep the pile moist, but not soggy.
Starting Seeds Indoors. Get the jump on spring planting and have your very own ready-to-transplant seedlings. Simply put; seeds need proper temperature, moisture, and light to germinate. It’s quick and easy, all you need is: seeds, soil such an organic seed-starting mix and containers. You can get trays made for indoor planting at your local hardware store. We recommend recycling paper or plastic cups.
It’s wise to sterilize your containers. A solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water will do the trick nicely. Your containers should have drainage holes for excess water, which means you’ll also want a shallow, waterproof tray to hold them. Smaller containers are better; we suggest about three – four inches across. That’s all the space you need since you’ll be transplanting the seedlings before they get large enough to need more.
Sowing Your Seeds. Your soil should be moist but not water logged. If it is not, dampen the soil before filling your cups. Place a few seeds on the top of your soil. Use your finger to push the seeds in about half and inch. Make sure the seeds are completely covered below the soil. The soil needs to stay evenly moist. Never let it dry out. While your seeds are still in the germination phase, you may need to lightly moisten the soil from the top if you notice the soil drying out. With a tray of water below the cups, try using a plastic dome to raise humidity levels and retain moisture in the soil.
However, after germination, always add water to the tray, not to the containers themselves. Your seedlings will get the right amount of water and you’ll help to prevent disease. Check on your containers daily to make sure you remove the covers, get lighting in place and provide enough water.
In the germination phase – before the plants sprout – you’ll need to keep the containers warm. Put them a few inches above a radiator, on top of your refrigerator or dryer or use a special heating mat specifically sold for starting seeds. After the seeds sprout and are about a half-inch tall, requirements change. Now, you want comfortable room temperature (between 60 – 70 degrees) and light.
All that’s left is proper lighting. Without good lighting, your seedlings will become spindly, stalky and not so healthy. A south-facing window should provide enough light, but many gardeners use plant lights. Fluorescent lights, about three to four inches above the seedlings, will do nicely. They provide enough light, but stay cool. This is important, as too much heat will kill your seedlings.
In warmer regions, your seedlings will benefit from being brought outdoors during the day. They’ll receive warmth and light from the sun.
Inventory Your Gardening Tools. Making sure you have all the tools you need now will make for fewer last-minute trips to the hardware or garden center later. Here are some of our favorites:
• Long-handled tools for preparing beds: shovel, rake, garden hoe
• Wheelbarrow for hauling soil and heavier items
• Hand tools for transplanting: trowel, cultivator, transplanter
• Pruning shears for maintenance
• Tomato cages
• Kneelers for your comfort
• Garden gloves
Make Your Beds. Garden beds, that is. Get your raised garden beds or in-ground areas ready for planting. There are four different types of prep to discuss: new raised beds, new in-ground areas, existing raised beds and existing in-ground areas.
Prepping New Raised Beds is Fairly Simple. All you need to do is fill the beds with a good quality organic garden soil, preferably with some organic fertilizer mixed into it. We suggest adding some worm castings to the mix to promote beneficial microbe activity. This helps increase your plants’ resistance to disease.
Prepping New In-Ground Areas Takes More Work Upfront. Don’t despair! Taking this spring gardening advice will save you work later in the gardening cycle. New in-ground areas must be turned or tilled aggressively. You can use a flat garden hoe or a shovel or, if you have a large garden planned and/or hard soil, a rototiller is a must-have. Rather than buy one, you may be able to rent. Once the soil is tilled, water it generously and follow that with regular watering every day for two weeks. This triggers germination in most of the weed seeds in the soil. When they sprout, you can pull them before you plant. The amount of weeding you’ll need to do during the growing season will be far less. Finish by following the steps for existing beds.
Existing Raised Beds and In-Ground Areas. Both follow the same type of prep. First, take out any old plants and till the soil. Work in some fresh organic soil and new worm castings. You’re done!
Wrapping Up. One thing to remember before starting your spring garden beds is location, location, location! Just one tip for now; your veggie garden will need to be placed in a location that receives enough sunlight throughout the day. We will talk about its importance in an upcoming post, “Planning Your First Vegetable Garden.”