Your gardening duties are not over once the cold winter temperatures arrive. Start your preparations by planning, on paper or by using planning software on your computer, for your next spring vegetable garden. Did you have a plan from last year? If you did, it’s time to consider rotating your vegetables. Ask yourself these questions:
1. As you plan, are you going to plant any vegetable that has been planted in the same row as last year?
2. Are you planning for the compatibility of one plant next to another?
3. Are you considering interplanting this year, and if so, do you have a plan as to what plants will be planted in and amongst each other? (Example: Lettuce and tomatoes grow well together).
4. Are there any rows or beds of plants in this year’s plan that are going to cause too much shade for other rows or beds of plants?
Here are some questions to ask yourself about the duties that will help you prepare your vegetable garden for the spring:
• Wintertime is a great time to clean and even paint the handles of your hand tools (shovels, mattocks, pitchforks and other soil turning tools). Are they oiled down to help prevent rust? Have you sharpened every tool that needs a good sharp edge? (pruning shears, loopers, hand held knifes spades and other shovels).
• Have you completed putting together a large compost heap that you will let sit without turning at all during the winter months? One that you can build and then let it break down on its own!
• Have you seeded a cover crop over the entire vegetable garden plot, such as annual rye grass? This will control erosion, and help to add nutrient to the soil in the spring. If you are not going to plant a cover crop, have you considered mulching the garden to protect the soil from heavy rains?
• Have you ordered or received your seed catalogs and planned out what you are going to order from them, or have you already ordered your seeds and transplants?
It’s important for you to know what’s happening in the garden soil. Get a soil test done from your local Agricultural Extension Service and adjust the soil with amendments as needed. For those of you who have a very short growing season, it may be best for you to do your soil improvement at the end of the growing season, rather than at the beginning of spring, and let it rest through the winter.
It is also important for you to keep up with the weeds through the winter months, and early into the spring. Avoid allowing the weeds to compete with newly planted seeds and transplants. You may want to run a rototiller over the soil to loosen it to a depth of 6” and to begin to form the planting beds based on the plan you drew up during the winter. Remember to be flexible, as things may need to change due to a variety of reasons.
What about your plan to irrigate your garden? Do you know what type of watering system you want or is it already in place? Are you going to hand water, use a soaker hose set-up or use some type of drip system?
What type of fertilizer is available? Can you very easily go to your local garden supplier to retrieve the appropriate plant food? Are you going to garden organically and just use composted plant matter, vegetable and yard wastes and manures?
There are a lot of questions to be answered well in advance of the springtime months. Don’t be caught scurrying around at the last minute and have to undertake a big task that will set you back. Planning ahead will make for a much smoother growing season, and it will be less physically stressful on your body. Have a great garden season!