Preparing for spring

A little hard to believe-tomorrow we begin the first day of 10 hours of sunlight. This means we’ve come out of the Persephone period and plants will now begin to grow. It will be slow at first but will pick up as spring approaches. There’s still a lot of winter weather to deal with but the garden is ready to be warmed up. Some of the garden has been over-wintered and looks very good.

I usually begin covering my garden with plastic the first week of February so the soil will be ready to plant by February 17th. This year I’ll wait until the first week of March. The reason? I don’t seem to get ahead by the earlier starting date but it does add to my workload.

The next couple of weeks I’ll be selecting and ordering seeds. If you’ve been on my site much, you’ll already know my favorite places to buy. Johhny’s, Burpee, Jungs, and Territorial Seed. There’s a local place I like to buy from-Mountain Valley Seeds.

Crops I’ll be planting will be my regular early spring crops: several varieties of lettuce, spinach, claytonia, beet greens, tokyo bekana, corn salad, chard, bok choi, and maybe radicchio. My cool weather herbs have always been cilantro and chives

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Spinach in the winter garden

Its hard to believe that the days are now getting longer-slightly. This is spinach, something that was planted many weeks ago and which does exceptionally well in our winters. Its ready to be harvested now and I’ll probably begin to do just that. And with the longer days and approaching spring, many of the winter crops that were planted in early fall will begin to start growing again.

We’ve had unseasonably warm weather this winter. At night its been cold but the day temperatures have been in the high 40’s or even low 50’s. It has been very dry with very little snow. Though it seems counter-intuitive, it’s still important to keep your winter gardens from drying out. How do you know if it needs watering? By a simple visual check-they’ll begin to wilt and look like they are struggling, just like they would do in the summertime when they don’t get enough water.

With the water shut off for the winer, I use an empty plastic bottle of Oceanspray to water things. I’ve drilled holes in the top of the white cap. Its an easy chore to bring the bottle inside, fill it with tap water, and then water the crops. I don’t have to do it often, even in drier winters-once every other week? But let your eyes be the judge for sure.

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December carrots

Under protective covers I still have a few squares of carrots left. I should’ve planned on more but didn’t. Tonight we had vegetable lasagna and I was able to use not only winter carrots but also garlic, which is sweeter and milder than what you would expect from the supermarket.

Though almost all garden planting is finished at this time in zone 6, there are still some things that can be done. If you haven’t taken advantage of some online tools from different sources about what to do and when to do it, check this out. This is an excellent informational source that can help you to know what you should be planting at any time of the season. I’ve found them to be very valuable, and in my case, it’s reminding me that I can still plant garlic bulbs outside. There’s many of these available and I’m not sure if some are better than others. </

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Prepping the garden for winter

I prep my gardens now for the best possible soil in the spring. It’s a little bit of work but I think its well worth the effort. I’ve done this for 15 years with excellent results. It all started many years ago when I noticed how many bags of leaves my yard produced. I saw all the plastic bags lining the streets that were ready to be picked up by the city for the dump. I decided to save my bagged leaves to be used for a couple of different things.

The first is for a conditioner. I remove a few inches of soil, add a fair amount of leaves, and then replace it. The leaves will be gone by the time I’m ready to plant in springtime. Leaves are a great addition to your soil. Click here to learn some of the benefits of leaves and for some other helpful tips. I also use leaves to cover things in the garden for winter for extra protection such as carrots. The remainder of my leaves are used as a brown source ingredient for my compost bin. I know I”ll need 7-8 bags to carry me through the growing season until the next fall arrives. The remainder of leaves are used to sell to folks who attend spring square foot gardening classes at my home. At that time all the leaves are gone and folks need a good brown source for composting.

The message? Don’t throw your leaves away! Save them to be used for your soil and for a great compost ingredient.

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Finishing up the regular season-compost bin

This is a picture of my fully packed in compost bin on October 10th. I’ve got about 6-7 weeks of time before the weather gets really cold. I’ll work this bin every day, mixing it, mashing the ingredients, keeping it moist, and continually moving it. My thought is to get one more batch of compost before the bad weather gets here. As of the time of this post, I’ve lost almost half of the original mass. Free ingredients make up this compost bin. And if it seems a little too moist, or if I can smell something that I can identify, I’ll add leaves to balance things out.

Compost bin should smell earthy after a couple of weeks. Done correctly, you can produce an excellent quality of compost in as little as 6 weeks. The benefits of making your own compost can be seen here. While some experts will say you need 18-24 months to make a quality compost, that is true only if you don’t work you compost. If you do nothing and just let the contents sit, you’ll certainly get compost in this time frame. But by working it every day, you can speed up the process substantially.

Quick tip: this is the time to gather and save your leaves? You don’t have to rake them up and send them to the dump. Save and cover them for use in next year garden. It makes an excellent mulch and also a great compost ingredient to add-in to balance the green or kitchen items you’re using. Click here to learn more about composting leaves. My experience is that you don’t really need to shred them. If you feel like you want to and don’t have a shredder, use your lawnmower.

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