Spring is almost upon us and it is time to ready our vegetable plots for planting. When I first started planting my own vegetable garden, I thought it was essentially just tilling up the ground, planting some seeds in there, and watering it every couple of days. Turns out it is not quite that simple, as my fist vegetable garden showed me. A good portion of my plants died and I only got a few measly vegetables from the rest. I thought that I had just failed to inherit the green thumb that both my parents have.
After some instruction from my parents on the matter I learned a few things. I learned why my father did what he did to the garden, chores I would blindly help with but did not think to ponder at the time.
Clean the Garden in the Fall
It is important to clean your garden at some point. It can be in the Fall or in the Spring before planting. Remove all the dead plants, try to get as much root as you can before the snows fall. I tried and true trick for a fertile garden in my family is to set our vegetable plot on fire at the end of Fall.
When I was a kid I thought dragging dead branches from all over our large plot of land to light the garden on fire was just some harmless fun, it turns out it is good for the soil. Go around your yard and pick up dead branches, prune up your trees, and collect dead leaves. Throw these things on your vegetable plot and light it up. The dead leaves should make it light quick enough, but it will be horribly smoky. After the fire have been completely extinguished, till the ashes of the dead trees, plant matter, and leaves into the ground.
Lighting you garden on fire gives good nutrients to your soil, so it is beneficial if you have naturally poor soil. However, it does make the soil more alkaline, which is a problem if you already have pretty alkaline soil but good for evening out acidic soil. This fire also helps kill any plant diseases that may have infected your garden during the year.
Mix Up Your Garden Plan
If you live out in a rural area, you will notice that farmers will not always plant corn (or any vegetable) in the same vegetable year after year. One year it may be corn, then soybeans the next, than sunflowers the next. Do you know why that is?
It is from ancient knowledge of farming that we found out that planting the same crop in the same spot every year depletes the soil of nutrients. It is the same for our small vegetable garden. Your tomato plants may look very aesthetic in that one spot, however after five years of putting them there, the soil nutrient level will be terrible. So when planning out your vegetable placement (as you should, to make sure everything fits) try to move your veggies around.
Till In Compost In The Spring
You prepped the soil in the fall to a degree, however you need to further prep it in the spring as well. Till the soil when it is moist, not wet to aerate it and make sure it is pliable for planting. Be sure to remove any left over sticks that may have been left from your burning and remove any rocks that may have wondered in. A few weeks before you begin planting, till in some compost (which can be home made compost or something as simple as grass clippings) into the soil to fertilize it. With these natural ingredients mixed in, you should not need to treat the soil or the plants with a chemical fertilizer. The organic matter will also help increase drainage so you don't drown your plants with a spurt of overzealous watering.
Use mulch around your freshly planted young plants and place a light layer over your planted seeds. This will help keep your plants warm and wet, ideal for growth. After you plant your seeds, mulch them and then water well, this will help the seeds to get a healthy start to life and will make sure they have water if you neglect to water them.
Remove Any Unwanted Sprouts
When your garden begins to sprout, be sure to weed it diligently, especially if you used grass clippings to fertilize your soil. These weeds are only taking nutrients away from your vegetables. It may be a good idea if you are unfamiliar with what you planted to research what a spout is supposed to look like when young so you can avoid pulling it out. Heaven knows I did that all the time by accident while weeding my family's gardens.
You may also see sprouts from your last garden peeking up too, these should be removed as well. You may think 'Oh, free plant!" however those plants can carry some dangers with them. While your burning in fall should have purged many plant disease your garden may have picked up, this random sprout from last year may still carry them. Remove the random seedling to prevent the plant disease from coming back.
Consider For Pests
If your area is prone to snails and slugs, you may want to avoid mulching your plants as well as remove nearby things where those creatures could hide. They are a terrible menace you young and old plants alike. If they get to frisky, put out some beer to drown them.
You can actually deter many pests that like to prey on plants by planting marigolds, so perhaps allow for some of the pretty flowers in your garden. They are pleasing to the eye and serve a great purpose.
You will most likely attract large wild critters than just inscets with your tempting looking garden. The most common are rabbits. While cute and cuddly, the novelty wears off when they eat all your plants. You can keep them out with a nice fence made of chicken wire, however if they start digging under it, you may have to put out live traps and relocate the rabbit.
Like the rabbit, the raccoon is a likely appearance in your garden as well. Unlike rabbits, the raccoon will not be deterred by fences. They really do not even want to eat your plants, they mostly like to dig them up for fun. They especially like if you have planters with peat moss in the bottom, raccoons in my area just seem to be crazy for the stuff. These will need to be caught in live traps and relocated as well.