Till the Soil and Start Planting

The time has come to discuss planting directly in the garden.  Now bear in mind that my planting dates are later than those in many other parts of the country.  That is because I live in a short season growing area at northern latitude and fairly high elevation (2700 ft.).  I live in zone 4b, often considered a garden challenge.  In fact, one garden web site has an amusing article in which the author writes that those living in colder zones have “zone envy,” an emotional state in which gardeners in colder zones, envy their neighbors in the next warmer zone with a disturbing intensity.  The article is called “Zone Envy: a 5-step Recovery Program for Northerners”  by Ken Kohut http://www.northscaping.com/InfoZone/IS-0012/IS-0012.shtml.

Now, before we can start planting, we have to get the garden tilled, unless of course you use raised beds or boxes that have a minimum need for tillage.  If you are like me, with just a piece of field to work with, you need to be looking for a dry spell to till.  If you till your garden when the soil is too wet, you will end up by destroying your soil–that is you will end up by packing it, so that its capacity to provide water, air and nutrients to your plants is impaired.  This capacity is known as “tilth.”  You can also destroy garden tilth by tilling when it is too dry.  The former is more the problem where I live.  Right now, it is pouring down rain, and I can see the weeds having a heyday out there in my garden. 

So, in order to decide when to till, we apply the Goldilocks principle–not too dry, not too wet, but Just Right.  Pick up a handful of your soil and squeeze it.  If it forms a muddy lump, perhaps with drops of moisture, it is too wet.  If it won’t stick together at all, and simply falls out of your hand, it is too dry.  When your soil is just right, it will be just moist enough to stick together, when squeezed, but will be easily crumbled with your fingers.  This is the rule for turning soil by hand as well as using a rototiller.   One should not even walk on wet soil needlessly, as it can pack your soil into “hardpan,” which is similar to adobe.

After you are done tilling, you are ready to plant.  In the Pacific Northwest, there is a traditional order in which you plant your common vegetables.  That order is onion, peas, lettuce, carrots, beets, chard and spinach.  These are not all planted at the same time.  Onions are planted first, then a week later, peas, a week later, lettuce, then the following week, you can start pouring it on with carrots, beets, spinach, chard and whatever other salad greens you wish.  Of course these are just estimates of the time periods.  With experience, you will learn to recognize the times to plant.  They vary from region to region.  In Western Oregon, you can plant onions in February.  Here, we usually plant them in April.  Due to growing zones, there is quite a difference.  This is where knowing the seasons in your own region is important.

I am going to start my brussel sprouts, broccoli, raab, cabbage, lettuce and greens in flats indoors, so I will have early veggies for summer eating.  Later on, I will direct seed in the garden for succesive crops, and in July, I will seed for fall crops for freezing, storage and late season eating.

If you are going to plant potatoes, I suggest ordering the seed potatoes.  I got mine from Johnny’s Selected Seeds Johnnyseeds.com .  I like their Dark Red Norland and a white variety called Superior.  I have had good luck with them in my zone, as they are short season, store well and are scab resistant.  If you have a small garden area and you want to try growing spuds in the potato box I spoke of in an earlier blog, I have found an article and a blog giving specific dimensions and method for doing so  http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/homegarden/2002347126_potatoes25.html?syndication=rss. The following blog gives you photos to follow with instructions http://sinfonians-garden.blogspot.com/p/2-build-as-you-grow-potato-bins.html.  I just noticed that the latter writer notes that short season varieties are not well-adapted to this method of cultivation.  As mine are short season varieties, one might like to try some of the varieties he lists, such as Yukon Gold. 

I think this will keep you busy for a week, so have a good time planning and planting your garden.  Have a blessed Easter weekend.  Until next time, bye.

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