Getting dirty pays off

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips a turn.” -Hal Borland (1900-1978)

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Spring has started with bitter cold winds and rain in Lane County. Local gardeners itch to get their hands in the dirt. Cold weather should not put a damper on the excitement of spring planting. Gardeners can take steps to keep the pep in their step with the onset of spring garden harvests.  

Gardens are grown in many shapes and sizes. Container gardening is popular among households with little space, community gardens are affordable for those who have very little room for gardens. Raised bed boxes are a favorite in Oregon due to the amount of moisture in the ground from rains.

Author Eugene Engeldinger of Mother Earth news reported on gardeners using newspaper mulching. This method is used to protect new plants in trying to grow in overly wet soil. Thick layers of newspaper are heavily layered on overgrown weeds and sodden soil. The newspaper smothers existing weeds and stops the germination of new ones. The newspaper also serves as a protective barrier against more rain. If top soil has a moldy layer on top, be sure to rake it up and add fertilizer and manure as needed.

After the winter passes the first step for gardeners should survey their garden area , according to Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Cleanup that is a result of winter weather should be taken care of before spring planting begins. Be sure to let bulbs “die down” before cutting and removing them. In order to get a robust crop all spring, shrubs and fruit trees should be pruned. Small sprouted plants that have started from last year’s garden should also be noted. Gardeners should inventory their tools and make a list of replacements needed.

The soil should be tested for the pH value, the wrong balance in the soil will greatly affect the new crop of fruits and vegetables. Lane County Master Gardeners will test your soil for a minimal fee.

A visualization of what the garden will look like when completed will make purchasing plants easier. Having a design in mind helps with the number of plants to be purchased. At this point decide which kind of pest control and fertilizer you want to use. This may take a little research, the combination is different depending on what you are growing.

All vegetables and fruits have a different optimal times to plant depending on weather and region. For instance, lettuce, broccoli and cabbage are best planted in mid-April. The Farmer’s Almanac is a good source to help decide when to plant. Seeds can be sprouted indoors to be planted later. Place seeds in any container with drain holes, and cover with about a half inch  of dirt. Nurseries and drug stores sell “peat pots.” These are made specifically for sprouting seeds. No matter what container is used, the soil needs to be kept moist, but not drenched. The result of overwatering will be aphids and mold; both will kill the seedlings.

When starting plants from a seed make sure the seedling has the correct amount and  kind of light. This is listed on the seed packaging. Special soil called “seed start” is best, and each seed container should be clearly labeled.

Once the garden is planted and growing, keep a “growing” journal for next year. The information will be helpful not only in the process, but knowing what worked and what did not will save time and money for the next garden. Seeds can be collected throughout the year to ensure a healthy crop of fruits, vegetables and blooms for next spring.