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.