Spring Gardening

                                       by Deb Pavlosky

tomatoeBelieve it or not, it’s time to start preparing your spring vegetable garden.  We are barely into 2015, but get out there and do a little work every day to get things ready for the beautiful spring weather.

When considering where to plant your veggies this spring, don’t forget that you can use containers for lots of vegetables – especially tomatoes and peppers.  Any tomato or pepper variety can be grown in a container, but the container should be no smaller than 20 gallons. We had a customer whose tomato plant outgrew a 65 gallon container!    You will need to water tomatoes and peppers planted in containers daily and well, but this would be true for those planted in the ground too.  Whether planting in the ground or in a container, be sure to use the following guidelines when planting:  Plant in full sun (at least 6-8 hours of sun), fertilize with a good organic fertilizer like Microlife 6-2-4, use a good garden soil that drains well and add a very light layer of mulch on top (adding a little leaf mold compost to the soil is a good idea too).  Another great tip – add a tablespoon of Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salts) to the soil around these plants to increase the number of blooms and, therefore, fruits you will get to harvest.

With all the wonderful veggies we can plant in early spring, you still have some time to get yourraised bed garden soil ready.  If you are prepping a new bed or trying to get rid of weeds from an old bed, the best method is to cover the area with black plastic sheeting for 4 to 6 weeks.  Yes, 4 – 6 weeks – that’s why you need to start NOW!  Lay the sheeting so that rainwater does not get underneath.  Once all the weeds have died, you can remove the tarp and rake the soil clean.  I would allow the sun to bake the soil a little under the plastic sheeting after the weeds have been removed as well.  Once you have done this, you do need to amend the soil with good organic material like Microlife 6-2-4, a little agricultural molasses, leaf mold compost and/or composted manure and keep the soil moist to allow for good bacteria to grow for your plantings.

Please notice that I have not mentioned the use of herbicides to clear areas for planting.   And I won’t.  Yes, glyphosate will clear the weeds faster than the plastic sheeting method, but you will ruin your soil in the process.  Just say no to herbicides and go organic – especially when growing things to eat.   Growing organic really doesn’t take more effort or more money, but it does take a little more time and research to do it right.  Patience and vigilance is the key to organic gardening.   The health of your plants and your environment and your family is so worth the effort to grow organically.  To find out more about the negative effects of glyphosate in our environment, go to http://permaculturenews.org/2012/11/01/why-glyphosate-should-be-banned-a-review-of-its-hazards-to-health-and-the-environment/ .

If you are making a new bed and really want to grow the best veggies, raised beds work well.  You can find lots of vegetable garden raised bed plans online, but really, it’s hard to go wrong.  Just be sure to plant your garden in full sun.  Raise your beds at least 12” off the ground (higher bed = easier to reach the veggies) and use good material to make the frame.  Untreated framing lumber works well.  learn_raised_bed_gardenBe sure your garden is not too wide.  You want to be able to reach your veggies and pull weeds without stepping into your garden.   When planning your garden, remember that space is very important to plants.  So, pay attention to how big your plants will be when mature and give them plenty of room to grow.  Good air circulation in a garden is important to keeping fungi and some pests at bay in our humid climate.  Also, giving your plants plenty of space will keep them from competing with each other for water and nutrients and you will get bigger and better harvests.  Be sure to keep your garden weeded through the season.  If you allow weeds to grow, they will steal water and nutrients from all the yummy things you want to eat. Lastly, but most importantly, water your garden daily.  Watering by hand is great because you can be sure each plant gets the water it needs (remember to water at the base of the plants) and inspect for pests or diseases every day as you water.   A light layer of fine mulch (not the big, chunky stuff) will help retain some moisture in your garden and keep fallen fruit from lying directly on the soil.

If you have an existing bed and are an organic gardener, don’t till the soil before you plant.  You will disturb all those beneficial microbes that you have been working to build up in your soil.   If you aren’t an organic gardener, but would like to be, it will take TIME to make the switch.  Just stop using synthetic chemicals to feed and treat and start using organic options.   Once you start using Microlife to fertilize (and boost with a little agricultural molasses), it will be just a matter of time before you notice that your plantings are much healthier.

The keys to a successful spring vegetable garden are:  full sun, good drainage, good air circulation, daily watering, daily check for pests and diseases, organic fertilizer, organic pest/disease control, nutrient rich soil and a light layer of fine mulch.  That’s it.

So, what can you grow this spring?  Lots of great veggies!!!   And, if you pay attention to the Environmental Working Group’s list of supermarket fruits and veggies that contain the most pesticide residue (http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php), you are going to want to grow as much of your own produce as possible…

Remember, gardening is not an exact science.  You just have to grow stuff to see what works for you in your home garden.  Trial and error is the methodology.  Boy!  I am really good at the error part.  But, that’s how you really learn.  To quote Nike, “Just Do It.”   If you go into growing a vegetable garden with an open mind and use the information you read as a guide, you will be happily surprised by your ability to grow your own produce.  You will also probably come away saying  “Ohmygosh!  That didn’t work.” and  “Why doesn’t anybody tell you that?” and some good laughs too.  Don’t forget, you have a great resource in Maas Nursery.  Don’t hesitate to call us with questions about your garden.

Here’s a list of spring veggies from Kathy Huber’s article in the Houston Chronicle (February 17, 2010) on spring vegetable gardening in the Houston area and when to plant them:

Vegetable Seed/Transplant When to Plant
Beans, bush snap Seed March to Mid April
Beans, pole Seed March to Mid April
Beets Seed February
Broccoli Transplant February
Cabbage Transplant February
Carrot Seed February
Collard Seed February and March
Corn Seed March and April
Cucumber Seed Mid March through April
Eggplant Transplant Mid March to May
Kohlrabi Seed February
Lettuce Seed February through March
Mustard Seed February through March
Okra Seed April to July
Onion Transplant February
Peas, Southern Seed April to May
Pepper Transplant Mid March to May
Potato, Irish Seed pieces February
Radish Seed February to April
Squash, Summer Seed Mid March to April
Tomato Transplant March and April (sometimes earlier)
Turnip Seed February
Watermelon Seed/Transplant Mid March to May