This week I am so excited to have a guest Blogger, my very good friend Lucinda Bailey of Texas Ready Seed Banks. Spring is almost here in the Pacific Northwest so get your garden ready with this fantastic post from Lucinda!
WHEN TO PLANT
It is recommended that you obtain your area’s exact spring and fall “frost” dates–they will be different for individual counties. Don’t go from memory. Check on the internet by typing FROST DATES + your zipcode. Or contact your Agri-Life County Extension Agent and/or the Master Gardener program at the same office. They will have the right dates. Call them—your tax dollars pay for their services.
The dates for my county are March 17 and November 15 – but what does that mean? If I were to set plants out, either by seed or six inch transplanted seedlings, on March 17, I have a ten percent chance of there being a freeze, which in turn, could kill any plants which are frost sensitive. A ten percent risk is one I can live with. Freeze dates DO NOT mean that it can’t or won’t freeze after that date. Regarding the fall frost date, I have a ninety percent chance that my crops will experience a freeze after November 16 each year—therefore; I plan the spring planting and concluding harvest dates accordingly. The appendix in All New Square Foot Gardening is excellent as it illustrates when to start seeds in trays, when to transplant, how long it takes for the individual plants to mature and when you should harvest.
Obviously, frost dates are guidelines, and Mother Nature has a mind of her own. Thus far, this winter has been extremely mild in my area, so I was willing to bump up my planting date by about thirty days. If we did experience a freeze, there would still be time to reseed or replant. I have plenty of reserve seed and know I’m taking a slight risk. There were two days in the mid-forties, so I have had to replant cucumbers and melons. Everything else flourished. Tomatoes, which are very sensitive, I kept in the hoop house because to regrow them from seed is very time consuming.
In addition to the risk of planting too early, there is also a risk in waiting too long to plant. For example, peppers, don’t set fruit well if the nights are hotter than 70 degrees F.
PREPARE YOUR BEDS
You can do this even if your last frost date is a couple of months away.
1) If you haven’t done this already, clean up all the previous garden debris. Send it to the compost heap. Because we teach survival gardening, Texas Ready does not recommend loose mulch, broken up leaves or grass clippings on the surface of your garden beds. We don’t want to provide bugs a place to hide.
2) Take a forked tool (a rake won’t get deep enough) and lightly loosen the soil to a depth of eight inches. If you see squirmy little worms or grubs, kill them. If you have chickens either give them the worms and grubs as a treat, or better yet, assuming you can fence them away from whatever may be growing in your garden, let them scratch around in your beds. They’ll become virtual “rototillers” with an attitude. I prefer this strategy because it gives my twenty hens a little exercise and they avoid the boredom of living confined in a pen.
3) Get a metal window screen—I use one about 2’ x 3’ in size, and a wheelbarrow. Head for the compost heap. I am a lazy composter—meaning I don’t turn my pile like I should—I simply take four inches of finished compost from the bottom of the stack once a year. I put a few shovel fulls on top of the screen and sift the soil into the wheelbarrow, sending back to the compost heap anything that didn’t fall through the screen. The result is a very fine top dressing which my plants love. Alternatively, using the Mittleider Gardening method of 75% sawdust combined with 25% course sand, I level the soil in my garden boxes (aka raised beds).
4) Take the wheelbarrow full of beautiful soil and spread enough to bring the beds up to the top of the 8” boards. We recommend that your garden boxes (aka raised beds) utilize 2x8 pressure treated boards. The pressure treating process is now safe—twenty years ago this was not the case. Eight inches of material is enough to prevent the sun’s UV rays from activating perennial weed rhizomes.
5) Repeat the process until all your beds are ready. Lightly water the top dressing in. Repeat the watering process when you notice the beds are dry. Now the hard work has been done and the fun can begin.
6) If you are an over achiever, 6 weeks before frost date, get some heavy plastic painters drop cloths. Get at least a 12 foot square one. Cut it in half. Put it over your beds, securing the sides with heavy objects like bricks or boards. You are now going to let the sun solarize your soil. This will irradiate some garden pests (insect, fungi and viruses) and kill weed seeds at the same time.
MAKE YOUR OWN POTTING SOIL
You’ll want a basic potting mix—your box stores have this (expensive). You don’t want a lot of fertilizer built into this soil. If there is a lot of nitrogen the seedlings can get leggy and the stem won’t ever be able to support future fruit. (In gardening terminology, we call all that plants produce for us to eat “fruit”—even if the plant is a vegetable. Go figure.)
Or you can make your own, like I do from a recipe obtained from Rodale’s Institute for Organic Growing.
Make sure that any chicken or horse manure has been aged at least a year (preferably two) and that your compost heap was heated to at least 140 degrees F for about two weeks so weed seeds will not germinate.
4 parts finely screened compost from one year old shredded leaves and aged animal manure
1 part perlite
1 part vermiculite
2 parts peat moss
You’ll want to mix this outdoors in a wheelbarrow. Lightly moisten the ingredients to keep the dust down. I like this mix because there is a good balance between moisture retention and good drainage. Without good drainage you will struggle with “damping-off” which is a fungal disease that causes newly germinated seedlings to weaken, topple over and die. I like using finely shredded leaf compost because that way you get a timed release of good nutrition.
Wow! This is a lot of information! Next week we will continue with Lucinda and more on getting your garden growing. Want to see Lucinda live??? She will be with us at two Preparedness Expos in May! Prosser, WA and Grants Pass, OR.