I filled out two brackets for this year's NCAA basketball tournament, and the Jayhawks advance to the center of the page on both of them. I considered redoing one bracket to list another team as the national champion, which might have increased my own chances of winning a pool, when someone pointed out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with refusing to imagine a world in which the Jayhawks don't win it all.
Suddenly, I was perfectly at peace with my brackets and even felt somewhat noble in my unwavering loyalty to my team. I was certain that the Jayhawks would indeed emerge the victors, if for no other reason than the strength of my conviction.
Acting on blind faith is all well and good for picking teams on a piece of paper, but in planning a vegetable garden it's a formula for disaster. As we know, the utopian vision of the garden that motivates us at the beginning of the planting season is always complicated in some way by the challenges of weather or pests or disease. Something unexpected always happens.
Taking certain steps before planting the garden can go a long way toward improving the quality of your soil and the quality and quantity of your harvest. While people who are putting in early spring gardens already are tilling and seeding, it's not too late to tinker with the soil for the later plantings of hot weather crops.
This would be a good time to run a soil test. Kits are available at garden stores, or you can take a sample to your county Extension office. Your county Extension agent can tell you how to extract soil samples for the particular test available locally.
Once the results come back, your agent also can offer advice on how to raise or lower your soil's pH, if necessary, and how to adjust the density of minerals, if they are out of whack. Local advice can be valuable because the Extension folks are familiar with soil conditions in their bailiwick.
Bringing these variables into alignment can make a world of difference in the productivity of the garden, because healthy plants are better able to withstand the bugs and swings in rainfall that always occur during a growing season. If your soil is balanced, you'll need less fertilizer throughout the gardening season.
The happiest vegetable plants are also those that are growing in "active" soil, meaning that plenty of microorganisms are present to keep the soil well-aerated. Generally, we add microorganisms by tilling in compost and we reduce them by using chemicals.
If you don't have a compost pile, you can occasionally get free compost through local giveaways, such as the one being sponsored Thursday through Saturday by the city of Lawrence. Compost is available by the bucket or pickup truck load from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1420 E. 11th St.
Organic matter and any organic fertilizer should be tilled into the soil a few weeks before planting. If you already have plants in the ground when you begin amending the soil, use the compost as side dressing by working it into the top few inches of soil about six inches away from the plants. That way you avoid "burning" the plants if the nitrogen content of the compost is too high.
Finding the time to do the necessary prep work this time of year can be a chore, particularly for people who work and try to pack all of their vegetable garden time into the weekends. If the gardener is also a basketball fan, it's an even bigger problem. That's my way of saying that I won't be doing any gardening this Saturday, if my Jayhawks are making my brackets come true.