Preparing the Garden for Spring

 

Standing in the middle of my grandmother’s strawberry patch, I pick up the red fruits eager to make jam with her. To my left are many rows of tomato plants, beans, cucumbers and a lot of other plants that I have yet to learn their names. I am confident that I will know shortly. My grandmother is a very eager teacher. Fast forward 30 years and my grandmother is still teaching me via memories of gardening, food preservation and cooking with handed down cookbooks with her handwritten notations. It is no wonder that one of the many thrills in my life is gardening since it holds so many memories as well as being the perfect compliment to eating healthy whole foods. Now that the snow has melted, I’ve been busy preparing the garden for spring planting and thought I’d diverge from the recipe world for a moment to share what I do to prepare my vegetable garden and what my set-up looks like.

I begin each season with preparing the garden soil. I use raised beds because they are significantly easier to amend the soil nutrients than with an in ground tilled row-style garden. The soil here is extremely sandy so we built the raised beds and added a mix of black dirt, sand and compost which I acquired at the local compost site in a premixed “garden blend” of soil. To this, I’ve also mixed in peat moss and vermiculite. This forms the base of my soil. Every year, after establishing this base, I mix in additional compost which I make myself using kitchen scraps, chicken droppings and bedding from the backyard coop and the previous year’s spent vegetable plants that compost over the winter months.

I use a variation of the square-foot gardening method with a few personal changes to allow a little more space for certain plants. I’ve found this to be extremely space efficient, producing larger yields per square foot as well as provides a natural order and beauty to the garden. Every year, I’m a little crazy organized and map out my 8 garden beds with where I’m planting things so I can be sure plants are rotated each year both for pest control and for making it look pretty. Excuse the crumples and stains…the map gets drug around and re-looked at a number of times before it’s “final”.

Making my garden as organic as possible is important to me because everything you use in your garden is absorbed into your food and therefore into your body when you eat it. For fertilizers, I don’t use chemicals. The important trio to add as fertilizers or garden soil amendments are typically nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. For the nitrogen, this is usually covered with the chicken droppings and compost but in the past I’ve used blood meal or alfalfa meal for adding nitrogen content. I sprinkle on bone meal to mix into the soil for adding phosphorus. Kelp meal or a liquid kelp is what I use to enhance the potassium content of my soil. Alfalfa meal will also add needed potassium. After adding these soil amendments, I rake them in, being careful not to disturb any fall planted bulbs, like the sprouting garlic below, and let it absorb during the next few weeks with rainfall.

With the soil ready to go, I plant my seedlings indoors using repurposed Greek yogurt containers and paper egg cartons. I don’t start all of my seedlings early. Most of the ones I start early are the nightshade family of peppers and tomatoes plus any other long growing season vegetables like broccoli, squash and tomatillos. Tomatoes and pepper seedlings thrive with added calcium so I’ve added crushed eggshell to the bottom of each cup prior to adding the soil.

 

Most of the rest of my planting consists of seeds directly sown into the soil mid to late May when there is no more danger of frost. Here is the cute little greenhouse I currently use with a series of grow-lights strung above each shelf for my seedlings.

Here’s a peak at some of the fun seedlings that are just sprouting! Anaheim peppers, new mexico peppers, brandywine tomatoes and a series of herbs and perennial flowers round out the mix. You’ll notice there are more than one plant in each container. I usually plant more than one seed in each and then after the seedlings emerge, I pinch off the weakest one or two leaving the strongest seedling in each container.

  

Now it’s just time to wait until it’s warm enough for transplanting into the raised beds. In the meantime, I’ll plant some cold-tolerant seeds like spinach and kale to begin reaping the benefits in just a few weeks and enjoy the new buds on my orchard trees! I can’t WAIT for fresh apples, plums, cherries, pears and peaches from my own backyard!

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