Sow Now, Reap Later: Spring Garden Planning

Late winter is the prefect time for spring garden and soil preparation. Get a jumpstart on the season with these garden tips.

| January/February 2012

The weather outside might still be frightful, but if you’re planning to grow a garden this spring, now is the best time to choose a site and prepare your soil. Determine a garden spot that’s sunny most of the day, (keep in mind that bare winter trees will block sun in summer) and where it will be convenient to pop out and harvest something fresh for a meal. Access to tool storage, water, a compost pile and possibly electricity (for power tools) is also helpful.

Consider designating three or four distinct garden plots, which will allow you to rotate crops—a traditional method of plot management in which vegetables with like needs are grouped together. The three main groups are brassicas (cabbages, cauliflowers and Brussels sprouts), root crops (carrots, parsnips, beets and potatoes) and legumes (peas and beans). Make a fourth group with whatever miscellaneous tender vegetables you decide to grow, such as zucchini, sweet corn, celery and tomatoes. Divide your garden plot into three or four areas, and rotate each crop group to a new plot every three or four years to avoid the buildup of pests and diseases that can occur when the same crops grow in the same spot year after year. Planning for crop rotation also allows you to prepare and feed soil in the ideal way for each crop.

Good Soil

Soil is a plant’s essential source of moisture, air and nutrients. Good soil is a living, thriving community. Many small beneficial creatures such as earthworms, wood lice, centipedes, microscopic bacteria and fungi contribute to a healthy ecosystem by converting dead material into organic matter. Topsoil is the rich, well-cultivated uppermost layer in which most plant roots grow. It’s generally around 12 inches deep, although depth varies depending on whether soil has been well-cultivated or neglected. One of the best ways to improve soil is to cultivate deeply, which opens up soil for air and water to penetrate plant roots. 

Prepare your soil for growing vegetables by turning soil over in advance, ideally during winter, digging 6 to 12 inches deep. Add organic matter in the form of compost, leaves, rotted manure or seaweed. If you don’t have your own compost, you can often find it for free or for sale in your community; search online for “compost” and your community name.

As the soil starts to dry in spring, finish the seedbed by breaking down the surface into a fine crumble, using a fork and rake. If the soil is not sticky, you can walk on it at this stage, which breaks the clods and gently firms the surface. Apply a balanced organic fertilizer, then do a final raking. Remove excess stones, remaining clods and any weeds. Ideally, you should prepare your seedbed well in advance of the first sowing, allowing time for a first crop of weeds to germinate. Hoe off the weed seedlings immediately before sowing your garden seeds, which will give your crops a headstart.

What’s Your Soil Type?

Depending on your soil type and pH, it may also be helpful to amend your soil before the gardening season begins. First, determine what kind of soil you’re working with. The mineral components of soil are clay, silt and sand. A good soil is one that contains a mixture of all three; gardeners call these soils loamy.

3/1/2014 11:57:16 PM

This January, my husband and I bought a home with a wonderful veggie garden area. We also have a ready made compost pile but it is very dry with grass cuttings mostly. I want to try my hand at organic gardening this year and really have no idea where to start. I live at 7,000 feet but this year we have had a very mild/dry winter so my soil isn't frozen. When/how do I go about preparing my soil? I have no clue if my compost is even usable at this point. It has been at least a year since it has been turned. How do I start making my compost usable? If I can't use my compost this year what is the best organic fertilizer to use? Where do I order seeds? HELP!!! haha! Thank you for any information you can give.

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