Was their ever a date gardeners so eagerly await as the first day of spring? It is confirmation that the worst of winter is truly behind us, and in the Piedmont Triad area it is definitely time to start planting our vegetable gardens!
If this is the first year you have grown vegetables, the most important thing to do is prepare your soil. You will need to break up our compacted clay soil, add some lime to raise the pH to about 6.5, add 6 to 8 inches of compost and till it in. Test both your native soil and the compost you are adding. Soil testing is FREE in NC! You can very easily over-fertilize and over-lime to the detriment of your pocketbook and your garden.
If your soil is already pretty rich in organic matter, adding shredded leaves over the winter and an inch of compost every spring and fall will help keep it that way. If there is no time for prepping new soil, spring greens can be grown very successfully in containers of high quality potting soil.
Because I have added leaves and compost to my vegetable beds for years, the first tool I reach for in my vegetable garden is my Dad’s potato rake. It has four long curved tines perfect for loosening the soil. I prefer not to till as tilling disturbs the soil’s microbial community, i.e. the microscopic bacteria, protozoa and others good guys that are making nitrogen for your plants. Tilling also pulverizes your earthworms. So go gently. Your main goal is to loosen any compaction and provide air space for your plant roots to grow.
Once your soil prep is done, you are ready to plant! Here a quick list of what to plant now:
Onions from sets, plant them only about an inch deep in the soil. Onions should grow with their bulbs above graound. The root is actually below the bulb.
Seed potatoes are available in big box stores and farm stores now. Plant them about 6” deep with athe sprouted “eyes” facing up. They will take at least 3 weeks to come up, which is perfect timing as they resent having their new green leaves frozen. If your potatoes are up and a freeze is in the forecast, be sure to cover them with a blanket or row cover.
Lettuce seedlings started in egg trays on a heat mat and under grow lights give a head start to the spring gardening season.
Put out seed for lettuce, spinach, arugula, turnips, kohlrabi, bok choy, dill, cilantro, kale and swiss chard. All of these seeds can be simply sprinkled on top of good soil. A spray from your water hose will settle them to the right level in your soil. Do NOT cover tiny seeds with extra soil as many of them need light to germinate! Keep the surface of your soil moist while seeds are germinating as they have a hard time coming up through crusted soil.
Now for the hardest part. When your seedlings are about an inch high, get your scissors and thin out the ones that are growing too close together. As heart breaking as it feels to take out your new babies, plants that are too crowded will never reach their full potential.
Green peas, snow peas and sugar snap pease can still be planted now. Soak the seed overnight, preferably in a weak solution of fish and seaweed emulsion. Then press the plumped up seed into ground only an inch, and plant them about 6” apart. Add a short trellis as soon as you plant them.
Beets have big seeds that germinate faster if soaked overnight before planting too. They come up best when they are pressed firmly into the soil at planting time. Each beet seed will actually produce about 2-4 seedlings. Again it becomes important to spread them 6-8” apart when they are only an inch high, or thin them so no two are growing together. My favorite yellow beets have the most delicious greens, sweet enough to eat fresh in salad.
Seeds for every kind of Squash can be planted after the first week of April. And forget “square foot” gardening here – each squash plant will take at least 3’ of space! Plan accordingly.
Do not even think about planting tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers until the third week of April or first of May. It is so tempting as 70 degree days grow more frequent, but our last AVERAGE frost date is April 17th. Tomatoes. cukes and peppers will not grow anyway until the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees. Planted earlier, they just shiver and get weaker and more susceptible to bugs and disease.
Happy Spring & Happy Gardening!
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