Now is the Time to Start Your Spring Garden and Finish Planning This Year’s Garden.
If you haven’t started planning this year’s garden, there is still time . . . (See January Vegetable Gardening for much useful information, including planning the garden, planting calendars, seed selection, and information about the winter sowing method of starting seedlings outdoors).
It is too early to direct-sow most anything outdoors in our region, but it is high time to start seedlings of cold-season crops and hardy herbs for later transplanting, whether indoors (also see excellent UMD Extension indoor seed starting video) or outdoors. Growing your own seedlings is a rewarding activity, and your alternative will be to purchase transplants when the time comes (such as from farmers markets or various gardening stores), or choose not to grow crops that need a longer growing season and focus on direct-seeded crops or perennials. Additionally, certain plants are best propagated by vegetative methods rather than by sowing seeds.
Preparing beds for the growing season is essential, and building healthy soils is an ongoing effort that can be accomplished through a multi-prong approach (also see Virginia State University’s presentation on building healthy soils for urban farming).
Understanding the texture of your soil is important to understanding its suitability for agricultural productivity. You can easily take soil samples and conduct simple tests to estimate your soil texture by measurement and by feel. USDA provides an online soil texture calculator to enter your measurements. You can also easily conduct a percolation test to determine drainage in various parts of your garden. Drainage of about 1-3 inches of applied water per hour is considered normal to good drainage. Drainage below or above this range is considered “poor” drainage. Drainage problems can be addressed by: (1) incorporating compost and/or organic matter into the soil or as a top dressing (it helps heavy clay soil drain and coarse sandy soils to hold moisture); (2) choosing plants suited to your soil drainage; (3) building raised beds for better control over the soil texture.
You should periodically test your soil for the presence of key nutrients and soil pH (approximately every three years). For a small fee, Virginia Tech’s Soil Testing Lab will evaluate soil samples you send them and provide recommendations. Remember that most crops will need supplemental fertilization in mid-summer.
It is a good time to apply any necessary soil amendments, particularly to beds that were not seeded with cover crops at the end of last year.