As eager gardeners patiently await the arrival of warmer weather, many avid green thumbs are already preparing to plant their spring vegetable garden.
Although soil temperatures are still cool, longer days and timely spring rains help produce a bountiful harvest when managed properly.
As soon as the weather warms, spend a little time building the garden soil. If you have not done so in the past two or three years, take a soil test. Soil tests help determine if certain nutrients are lacking. Next, add organic material such as compost, animal manure or ground up leaves from spring clean-up. Organic matter increases the water-holding capacity of the soil resulting in less water having to be applied. It also adds nutrients. Over time, there is less need to add fertilizer and it will be easier to work the soil.
Next, research and select adapted cool season vegetable varieties for our area. Plants such as cabbage, broccoli, endive, cauliflower, lettuce, potatoes, radishes, onions, peas, spinach, turnips and beets all can be planted this time of year. Choose varieties that have been bred to be disease resistant for a better chance of success. Likewise, pay attention to final space requirements so plants do not become overgrown and crowd each other out. Plant only what you can use. Many gardeners overestimate the amount they can eat. Just like me at a family picnic, my eyes can be bigger than my tummy -- so are gardeners' ambitions. There is no reason to water, fertilize, weed and nurture fruit that ultimately is left to rot in the garden because you have already eaten your fill.
When planting the garden, rotate the crops so you're not growing the same plants in the same location as last year. Many soil born diseases can overwinter and cause problems through time. By moving the plants around in the garden, you decrease the chance of having one or more of these problems showing up. Likewise, different plants pull different nutrients from the soil. By rotating the plant location, you help ensure one or more nutrients will not be entirely used up in any one area.
In a few weeks, after the plants have emerged and are growing nicely, use an organic mulch to cover the soil. Mulch has three main benefits: It helps keep weeds to a minimum. Fewer weeds means less hoeing or weed-pulling later this spring. It holds in soil moisture longer. Less water lost means less water you have to add. And, finally, it keeps the soil temperature constant. As the spring sun turns warmer, mulch helps keep the soil cooler, resulting in better production with less effort.