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Gardening

Spring Cleaning; preparing your garden

by Mireille Bourgeois

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Spring is here and for the gardeners who have already started some early seeds under their indoor grow lights, their next task is to prepare the garden beds, think about a garden plan, seek out new trellises, and think about that new garden project for this garden season.

My first garden was last year and it was so much fun I’ve decided to have another go at it. Somethings worked better than others. One of the things I feel looking back really impeded my garden’s progress was my own preparedness. I had poor poor trellises. My #1 recommendation is to have good, strong trellises prepared before you’re ready to plant outside. Last year I had plants that needed them so desperately but because of work, growing timing, and general garden tending, I lacked the motivation to properly set them up, and my plants either died or revolted by not growing.

My squash got a fungus disease because they were all over the ground, without mulch or straw protecting them from the moisture in the soil, my beans never grew higher than 3 feet and dangled from the string trellis I had pathetically tried to finagle, and my peas… oh the poor peas. They just didn’t know where to go. I planted them really late, and with a sad random stick pocked next to them to “encourage” them to grow.

SO! My #2 recommendation when planning a garden is to establish what you want to grow! Last year I wanted to grow it all, but I realized that there were some veggies that I didn’t get to tending properly because I had too much to handle (for a novice gardener). This year I’m prioritizing a few important (to my kitchen) veggies and fruit: tomatoes, peppers, basil, Chinese coriander, potatoes (sweet and regular), carrots, beans and peas, kale and spinach, squash and cucumber.

I’m growing other veggies like beets, chives, green onions, onions, leeks and garlic but the above veggies require specific attention and so I’ve decided to focus on those “first”. Here’s my little list of spring cleaning and preparedness:

1. Find proper pots

I have many pots but I’ve decided this year to think a bit more about how I will garden in planters. I find planter gardening difficult. Last year I did a 50/50 soil to peat moss combination for my pots and still nothing grew. This year I’ll do a 70/10/20 mix of peat moss, soil, compost. I’m also going to make sure I take out all the little sticks that is found in most soil and compost. Veggies like carrots can’t grow around rocks and sticks and then get deformed trying to grow around them. Also, your pots will need proper drainage, if they don’t drill holes through them, or plop a layer of clean rocks at the bottom of the pot.

Different pots will work better for different veggies. Lettuce, and spinach like shallow pots whereas carrots like wide and deep (12inches) and non-tappered pots. I want to grow veggies in my front yard this year, that’s where all the sun is! In lieu of building large garden bed out front, I’ll be creating an array of potted veggies.

2. Early planting

This is your window to plant some veggies that can withstand some colder weather with just a bit of protection. Carrots, beans, peas and thick leafy greens like kale and swiss chard can be planted (throughout the year if you follow the year-round garden mission of using hoop tunnels and cold frames like in Niki Jabbour’s technique: I’m not there yet) as early as March. This is your chance to get an additional harvest for some veggies. I planted two varieties of carrots in my pots and some swiss chard. I’m Protecting them with a black cover (with vent-holes) for the germination process and then will cover the little seedlings with cloches (like the top of that pop bottle) until the weather is warm enough.

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I’ve also started some sweet potatoes indoors (they take about 6 weeks to grow shoots ready to plant outdoor), and garlic. A note on early gardening. There are no rules! Typically you can plant your garlic outdoor in the late fall early winter but I missed my window and so I’m starting some indoors in late March. Later this year though I’ll definitely plant garlic in my beds to skip this step. It’s so easy. I started my indoor tomatoes in February because I couldn’t wait and even though they are getting unruly they’ll make it into my garden and be really strong. Also, the sweet potato thing… I just did this for the fun of it, if anything comes out of the experiment, it’ll be an added bonus. You can find a tutorial about how to start your sweet potato shoots here.

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3. Clean and Scavenge

This time of year neighbours are getting rid of random household articles, some of them old outdoor furniture and yard cleanup items. Some of these items are perfect to repurpose in your garden. If you feel weird about taking something from someone’s curb (why not?) then go to thrift stores. You’re likely to find lots of things like a salad bowl you can turn into a bird bath, a sugar dish you can turn into a bird feeder, some window shutters to turn into trellises and lots of other random items to transform into planters. (I did a BBQ planter last year, and this year I’m going to try a filing cabinet planter! I happened upon a closing sale at a flower shop and got a beautiful teal painted wooden ladder that I’ll use as a cucumber and squash trellis. (nice and sturdy!). Also, a hanging plant holder that I’ll hang my strawberries on.

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This is also a great time for weeding (the top soil is likely thawed enough for you to do this, and the weeds a bit lazier than usual, although deep rooted weeds are harder to get out), fix broken pots, and clean up last year’s dead flowers and leaves.

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4. Prepare Beds and Garden Tools

Sowing and planting season is no time to be running back and forth to the hardware store to get the proper tools (although some may be on sale at that time, and it’s bound to happen). Nor is it fun to have to rush out and buy emergency pest control things throughout your season. At planting time, you want to be planting all your veggies, and tending to your seeds, purchasing plants and preparing the soil and mulch, which takes a LOT of time (but that’s the fun part ;)! So I recommend getting yourself ready to handle the garden before June (planting season in my region). First off, my garden beds are still frozen. To help them heat up a bit I’ve cut up some black garbage bags, cut little ventilation slits in them and placed them on top of my beds. The sun should help them heat up quicker. You could use weed barrier plastic too.

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Start some compost, it’s unlikely to freeze at this time of year (April), even though it’ll take longer to decompose. Wash your pots and garden tools, collect egg shells for the garden (helps with snails and also gives plants calcium. I drop a handful into my watering can too.), your coffee grounds (great for compost), and collect pop or juice bottles (for your irrigation system: I’ll drills small holes in the bottle, then dig them in between my tomato plants and fill them with water daily. This will slow-release water to my plants).

I’m reading up on organic pest control and coming up with a lot of great options for either organic fertilizers and pet and human safe remedies for fungus and pest control. I’ll prepare a few solutions which can take up some time and have them on hand when the need comes.

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SO! That’s my spring time list! (for now 😉 I’ll post about some of these tips in greater detail once I get to them (especially the sweet potato experiment, the organic pest control recipes, and trellis projects). It helps to have a garden plan, not just to know what and where you’ll plant your veggies, but to help you get the most out of your garden, without totally overwhelming your everyday. I want to enjoy my garden, but I don’t want it to take over my life!

Hope you have a great spring cleaning!

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