2013-05-02 / Columns

Garden Thyme

By Beth Binkowski bethsgardenthyme@yahoo.com

Never say, “Spring is here!” Ever. Mother Nature will find a way to make a fool out of you. I should have takenAristotle’s advice: One swallow does not make spring, nor does one fine day. Lesson learned.

The weather refused to cooperate in April and we’re now starting the merry month of May. It will be a frantic rush to get two month’s work done in a few short weeks. Making sure your soil is in good shape is a good place to start.

Don’t treat your soil like dirt. Dirt is what you sweep up off the floor and isn’t good for much of anything and dust is mud with the juice squeezed out. Soil, on the other hand, is alive and needs to be treated with care. Many gardeners will blame insects or disease as being the reason a plant is failing. The real issue might be a poorly prepared planting site. Under every healthy plant is a healthy root system and that starts with wellprepared soil.

Adding organic matter, such as compost and manure is the best way to improve your soil. When organic matter decomposes, it forms humus (not to be confused with hummus, which is delicious on crackers). Humus acts as a natural glue to bind and strengthen soil and helps hold water and nutrients.

Compacted soil reduces air and water movement and results in poor root growth. The way to avoid compaction in the first place is to have permanent areas for plants and for traffic. Planted areas can be laid out flat on the ground or in raised beds so you’re not stomping on the soil.

Taking raised beds one step further is square foot gardening (SFG), a method of intensive gardening that is ideal for small garden plots. SFG allows vegetables and flowers to be planted very close together in raised beds. Less weeding, less thinning, easier pest control, and no need for tilling are some of the advantages of SFG. You can harvest more vegetables because you’re planting in blocks (square foot grids) instead of rows and that saves on water because you aren’t wasting water between rows.

The most common SFG beds are four feet by four feet, but there are loads of creative designs. Google square foot gardening for information, images and Youtube videos. Some examples of what you can plant in each square foot: Nine onions, beets, or spinach. Sixteen carrots or radishes. One tomato, pepper, cabbage or corn plant. You can build trellises at the north ends of the squares to grow vining plants such as beans and cucumbers vertically, which saves even more space. I incorporated SFG in my raised beds last year and was very pleased with the results. I’m a lazy gardener at heart and SFG helps me realize my potential.

When purchasing annuals this spring, select ones that are not in full bloom. Choose shorter bushy plants because the larger ones are more established already and may not transplant as well. A dark green color is generally a good indicator of a strong healthy plant. Avoid plants that are light colored or yellowing or have any brown patches.

If a plant comes with directions stating it needs full sun, it means more than six hours of sunshine a day. Part sun/ shade is four to six hours. Full shade means less than four hours and no direct sunlight.

Anxious as we are to get in the garden, working wet soil can damage its structure and seeds are less likely to germinate in cold, wet soil. Remember to rotate vegetable crops to help control pests and diseases.

One does not expect to wake up to single digit temperatures towards the tail-end of April and highs only in the 30s. Panic is beginning to set in. Instead of puttering in the garden on April 14, I was pulling out the winter clothes I had put into storage and gawking at a raging blizzard. Mother Nature always gets the last laugh. Always.

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