Planning is key to successful gardening

We are one month away from planting the first crops outside. Mid-March is the time to plant cool season crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, beets, carrots, spinach, peas, garlic, onions, leeks and potatoes.

Here are two things you need to do between now and then.

1. If not already done, do some garden planning, such as deciding where and how large it will be and what you will grow. Your local County Extension Office can provide you with a fact sheet, F-6004, Oklahoma Garden Planning Guide, that can help you in this planning process.

However, if you have never gardened before, I caution you not to get so hung up with “planning” that you never get any “gardening” done. By all means, read this and other materials; but don’t allow yourself to become so overwhelmed with reading that it prevents you from doing anything.

At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I would argue that there is no better way to learn how to garden than to garden. As you do that, you will make mistakes, but those are learning opportunities which will help you focus your questions to be more specific. And it is in seeking the answers to those more specific questions that you will experience real learning and growth.

2. Prepare the seed bed. There are two major steps to this.

First, if you were unable to do so last fall, spread any needed soil amendments, such as fertilizer or organic matter, uniformly over the top of the soil. Then bury them 12 or more inches deep. In a small plot, a potato fork or spade will do this well. A tiller is nice if the garden is large, but be sure it will dig deep enough because many won’t.  Getting these amendments spread throughout the root zone of the plants is critical, because many of them, such as potassium, phosphorous and organic matter, will not move on their own any deeper into the soil than where you place them.

Second, you will want to work the soil into finer particles. This is what tillers do best, but a rake will work well for small gardens.

However, it is important that both of these steps be done when the soil is neither too wet nor too dry. If it is too wet you will form clods that will not break up easily after they dry out, almost like bricks. If it is too dry, you simply will not be able to penetrate it with your tillage tools. Finding those conditions can be problematic in the spring, which is one reason I prefer to work the soil in the fall.

Reclaiming Your Garden’s Soil Before It’s Too Late!

Soil is a major component of the Earth's ecosystem, and without it we simply would not exist!

A newly acquired garden or an over-spent allotment can have poor-quality soil, making it more difficult to manage and use. Leading to potential problems for those wishing to grow a lush green lawn or plant some daffodils, crocus or hyacinth bulbs in the spring.

It’s not as difficult as you think to restore the soil to make it productive again.

Clear the Area

Cutting bushes and small trees back to the fence line is the first job on the list. It is vital that you don’t give the bushes and plants the chance to grow accustom with the soil. Each bush and tree is part of the cycle and prepares the soil for the next stage – stopping this happening will ensure the soil keep holds of all its goodness.

Shears should work fine on most bushes and shrubs, cut small growth straight across and as close to the ground as possible. For more stubborn branches, roots or trees either pull them out of the ground or hire/borrow a chain-saw, other standard gardening tools can assist you should you get into difficulty.

Rocks can hinder grow and mowing so it’s best to walk around your area and remove the larger visible stones from the area. Larger rocks might need more than just human strength to be removed so if you find large rocks pull out the spade and get digging.

Green Manure

Manure crops should be planted where you want your garden to be, even if you don’t plan on using your area for food, planting manure crops helps stimulate the soil making it easier for grass, food and plants to grow.

Some of the best Green Manures for all year round are rye, cowpeas, mustard, oats, alfalfa, clover, winter peas, and timothy. These return nitrogen to the soil along with organic material, and are a good choice for long-term soil development.

You must allow at least two to three weeks between ploughing under and planting. Green manure decays after being ploughed under; it returns to the soil all the nutrients it used while growing, adding vital organic matter, so all types of soil, from sand to clay, respond positively to this treatment.

Unfortunately this isn't a one-time project for those of you with a vast amount of clay or sand in your soil. You must continue with this process to ensure the decaying process continues. For the most toughest of soils it can take up to five years to prime!

By reclaiming your soil you should be able to grow anything in less than optimum conditions. Even for those growing foods, strong soil can produce quality produce!