Spring is almost here and that means a brewing of activity for the gardeners among us.
Whether you were one of the many first-time gardeners last year, a seasoned grower, or aspiring green thumb, Spring is the season we get to start fresh and plan for abundance.
Solara Goldwynn of Hatchet & Seed has outlined several steps you can take now to prepare your garden for the year ahead.
First things first, take stock of last year’s garden; what went well and what didn’t? What would you like to do differently this year?
If you are just starting out on your food growing journey, start with a site assessment of your yard (or balcony) to see what your garden limitations are.
Some questions to ask: How much sun do you get? How much space? Does your garden have a deer fence? Are you growing in the ground, in raised beds or growing in pots? How will you water? How much time do you have to dedicate to your garden (and to the harvest)? And the big question: What do you want to eat?
It’s said that a food garden needs at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. While some crops like lettuce and Asian greens can grow in partial shade, certain things like tomatoes and squash need that full sun for 6-8 hours.
Vegetables need between 6 and 24 inches of well-drained soil to grow healthy roots. Shallow rooted plants like salad green can handle shallow soil, but things like carrots and bigger, hungrier plants like squash will need a greater depth. If you’re growing in the ground it can be very beneficial to mound up your beds so that they drain quicker in the spring. Most plants do not like saturated roots, and wet soils are slower to warm up in the spring.
Doing a soil test is a good idea to see what’s going on with the fertility of your soil as well as the PH levels. Watch out for compacted and heavier soils (usually clays) which generally do not produce good vegetables unless there is 6’’-24’’ of lighter soil (sand/silt) and compost above it. This is true of bedrock as well.
In our garden we like to top up our raised beds with finished compost (about 1-2 inches) every year. We also use organic fertilizer in the holes we dig to transplant our veggie starts. You can find organic fertilizer at most garden supply stores, look for a 4-4-4 blend food garden blend. During the warmer growing months, we’ll also use organic liquid fertilizer to give nutrient hungry plants (like squash, brassicas, tomatoes) a boost. We use liquid kelp, liquid worm castings, or liquid fish, all very diluted, in water. You can make your own liquid fertilizer by putting compost or manure in a muslin cloth bag and submerging it in water for several hours and then watering your vegetables and the soil around them with that.
Speaking of water, in our modified Mediterranean climate we have a lack of rain when we need it (main growing season) and an abundance of rain when our gardens don’t. Protect your soil from drying out in the summer by adding compost, straw or leaf mulch. Invest in a drip irrigation system so that you can be sure your vegetables get the adequate 1-2 inches of water per week on their roots. Less hand watering means more time doing other things in the garden.
It is definitely tempting to want to plant a huge variety of crops. Seed catalogues arrive, Instagram gardeners post about the latest craze, and the excitement can turn any grower into a kid in a candy store. This is where it’s good to know what you like to eat as well as how much space and time you have. Even in a small garden with things like relay planting (harvesting one thing and planting another in its place) or intercropping (planting a variety of crops together that use different space requirements) you can get large harvests.
A little preparation goes a long way in the food garden, think about your soil and what you like to eat, give a bit of thought to growing year-round and plan for abundance.