Most of the neighborhood folks are either planting or thinking about planting our spring gardens. We have been asked a lot of questions about how to best prepare our gardens and rather than give second hand information we are reprinting an excerpt from K. Rashid Nuri’s article Preparing Your Spring Garden that he wrote last week for the Truly Living Well web site. Rashid is the expert the gardeners in our neighborhood call upon for the right answers for gardening without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
The single most important factor in creating a successful garden is soil preparation. I call it “dirt making”. Get the soil right. If you create good healthy soil, the plants, which grow in that soil, will also be healthy. Healthy plants are disease resistant.
Begin soil preparation by gently turning the soil. If this is the first time the land is being used to grow food, a tiller may prove helpful. Too much tillage destroys soil structure. Subsequent soil preparation can be done with a spade or garden fork.
After opening the soil add copious amounts of organic material such as compost, leaf mold, well-rotted sawdust or decomposed animal manure. You can make your own compost or purchase it from Truly Living Well or most garden supply stores. Compost is the key to successful gardening. Compost added to gardens improves soil structure, texture, aeration and water retention. When mixed with compost, clay soils are lightened, and sandy soils retain water better. Mixing compost with soil also contributes to erosion control, soil fertility, proper pH balance, and healthy root development in plants.
Utilize the garden space wisely. Select crops you will eat and enjoy. You must like what you plant or the garden space and the food will both be wasted. Southern exposure has the most light. Tall crops should be planted on the north and west side of the garden to prevent shading of smaller plants.
This is a transitional period for garden crops. Cool season crops that have overwintered and very early spring crops, such as asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustards, onions, English peas, spinach and turnips are being harvested. Some, like Irish potatoes, and those with fast growth and production rates such as arugula, carrots, lettuce and radish, can still be planted and will do well if the weather stays cool for the next four to six weeks. Carefully choosing the site for cool season crops planted in late spring can extend your harvest of these (largely green leafy) crops. Select a cooler and slightly shadier spot in your garden to shade them from the hot spring sun.
The last anticipated frost date for our area is April 11. After the danger of frost has passed, and the soil has warmed, it is time to plant warm season crops such as corn, cucumbers, green beans, eggplant, summer squash, and tomatoes. A few weeks later it will be time to plant okra, peppers, sweet potatoes, watermelon and winter squash. Because warm season crops require longer days and warmer soil to thrive, successful planting involves a combination of close attention to the weather, along with intimate knowledge of your garden soil and the microclimates for each planting area.
Use known or recommended cultivars for your main planting. Always buy good quality open-pollinated or heirloom seed from a reputable company. In my opinion, you will be better off not buying hybrid or genetically modified seed. Many nurseries have transplant seedlings available that save time.