March 2006 Article

We have had heavy rains in January and then snowfall in February. But now it is March and we can start planting our 2006 food gardens. Hurray! Finally!

But first we need to talk about improving your soil. You may want to test your soil if you have a new garden spot or if you think your harvests from last year were poor. Try using the simple test kit available at most nurseries. Take the soil sample from the center of your beds just a few inches below the surface, then follow directions on the package. Or take several soil samples and mix them well in a clean bucket and take a sample from the bucket using a clean scoop. Particularly notice the soil pH level. Most NW gardens will need lime added once every 2 or 3 years, except where you grow berries or potatoes. No lime for these, since they like a more acidic soil. Adding lime is especially important for heavy soils where you grow Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, arugula, choy, mustard, etc.) When you purchase your lime, read the directions on the package and add the recommended amounts, usually 5 or 6 pounds (pints) per 100 square feet every two or three years.

Now you need to add your compost. Add six or more inches of leaf mold, aged manure or purchased landscape compost like Cedar Grove. Mix this organic matter into the top 1 foot of top soil all through your garden beds. There is a technique called double digging, where you take the top foot of soil off the end of your bed, put it in a wheel barrow and then loosen the soil for a foot below that. Then take the top level of soil from the center section of the narrow bed, mix in your compost so that it stays near the top level and put that mix on the lower soil you just loosened. Continue this digging technique down the long narrow bed till you reach the end and add back the top soil and compost from the wheel barrow. Don’t walk on the bed and it will stay loose and friable for many years to come. Don’t worry about double digging all your beds the first year. Strengthen your back by double digging one or two beds a year.

Ok let’s get to planting. If we have a typical spring, March is when you can plant onions, carrots, arugula, mustards, radishes, turnips, spinach, beets, Swiss chard, peas, cilantro and parsley. Don’t use onion seeds in March; buy onion sets or starts for an early onion crop. The arugula, radish, mustard and turnip seed should sprout up within a week of planting. Watch for slug damage, because an early slug can wipe out a whole row in a single night. If you crack the round seedcoats of the cilantro seeds with a crunching pressure, they will sprout faster. Parsley seed likes to be chilled for a couple weeks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for quicker germination. Parsley is slow, but well worth it. In fact, it has become one of my staple vegetables. It seems all my salads are better with a cup of chopped parsley, especially potato salad, macaroni salad, tabouli salad, bean salad and even tossed green salads Yum, yum. And parsley has very few pests and lasts a year in your garden. The second year the parsley plants will shoot up a seed head (i.e. bolt) so keep planting fresh and save your seeds from year to year.

Enjoy your early spring planting! We can discuss the later seed plantings next month.

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