Setting Up the Garden for Spring

Reader Contribution by Allan Douglas
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March is here. My buddy, Mike, who lives in Alabama, is already planting in his garden. Here in Tennessee, I’ve been spending time (now that the snow has melted off) digging out weeds and inventorying my supplies in preparation of opening the garden for another summer.

Normally, at this time of year, I’d be closing down last year’s winter garden so I’d have space to get the early crops in for spring. But the last couple of years have been particularly cold and snowy and little has survived in my winter gardens.

The garden is rather bleak in early March.

This year I have a row of spinach that went dormant but is now perking up, and I see a few spikes of garlic leaves poking up through the straw at long last. My rosemary, oregano and thyme look to have survived as well. Everything else was killed. I’ll look to the bright side and say, “Setting up for spring will be easier.”

I used the GRIT Garden Planner last fall to lay out my winter garden so I would not run into problems needing to put in spring seeds and sets, but having winter crops still in the way – and to keep crop rotation on track.

In regards to crop rotation, it appears I am overly fond of the nightshade family of vegetables: potatoes, peppers and tomatoes in particular. My garden is not very big (20 4-by-4-foot raised beds and a berry house) so I tend to run out of places to put these after a few years. As a result, I’ll be putting in fewer tomato plants and just one box each of Yukon Golds and Beauregard sweet potatoes.

I’m taking inventory of my supplies as well: diatomaceous earth to fight flea beetles (and similar pests), Fels-Naptha soap to make an insecticidal soap spray to fight aphids and other soft body pests, milk spray (made as needed: equal parts milk and water) to control powdery (white) mildew, neem oil and baking soda for making fungicide to battle blight, lime and sulfur for adjusting soil pH if needed, and, of course, lots of compost.

I also check to see that I have useable cages for peppers and tomatoes, and that my trellises for cucumbers, peas and such are in good repair. I need to test my sprayers and make sure my trowel, cultivators, hoe, rakes and such are cleaned up and in good order. Bird netting for the berries and fine mesh to exclude cabbage moths from my brassicas.

Then of course there is the water hose and sprayer wand. I like to use a long wand that allows me to deliver water at ground level below the plant leaves. Keeping the leaves dry helps prevent blight and mildew as well as not sunburning the leaves if I am delayed and don’t get to the watering early in the morning.

Then there is the seed inventory. I try to allow a few plants to go to seed at the end of each season to provide seed for next year. These go into labeled paper envelopes, which go into a sealed plastic container kept in a small refrigerator in my office. I don’t throw away seed. If it’s two or three years old, I simply plant it in a closer spacing to compensate for the lower germination rate and thin them after they come up if they prove more viable than I thought. Even these sprouts can generally be used in cooking or a salad.

All this, a general clean-up of my storage barn and potting shed and removing the fall and winter debris from around my garden boxes will have me set-up and ready to begin gardening. Here are a few tips that may help out as well.

The Power of Purple

Honeybees are most attracted to purple blooms.  Planting Russian Sage, Lavender, purple Butterfly bushes, Coneflowers (Echinacea), Liatris and Comfrey (which also makes a great fertilizer and compost accelerator) in and around your garden will help draw honey bees in to help pollinate your veggies.

Homemade Organic Fungicide

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons neem oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon dish soap
  • 1 gallon water

Pour ingredients into a large sprayer and shake well. Spray on top and bottom of affected plant leaves. Shake sprayer periodically to ensure ingredients stay well mixed.

Fels-Naptha Insecticidal Soap

To make the insecticidal soap spray, shave one quarter of a bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap (about 1 inch) into 1 quart of heated water and stir until dissolved. This is your concentrate. Put the concentrate into a labeled container.

To make the soap spray, put 1 teaspoon concentrate per quart of water into a sprayer. This insecticidal soap spray is a contact poison, not a preventative, so spray it directly onto the insects you want to eliminate from your plants.

Do not use this on peas. It is safe on most other plants. If you’re not sure, test it on a few leaves and check them in a couple of days. If they are OK, proceed; if they wither, find another solution for that plant.

Happy gardening!

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