But don’t get ahead of yourself and do anything rash, like set your tomato starts outside. We’re still well before our last frost date (April 26th) and it’s too early for a lot. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get started! Here are 5 things you can do (right now!) to get your garden ready for spring. (And by the way, feel free to start those tomato seeds indoors.)
1. Get outside and imagine your garden
Smell the moist air. Check on your garlic and consider tilling under some of your overwintered cover-crops. Put your fingers in the Earth and get some dirt under your fingernails.
It’s easy to lose connection with the garden over winter. Simply getting outside and activating your senses will get you inspired and set the right intentions for a successful growing season.
2. Draw up a garden map and remember to rotate
Sometimes, we get so excited about springtime that we just want to get out there, throw seeds at the ground, and start harvesting. Bad idea.
These final weeks and months before your “last frost” date provides the perfect opportunity to draw out a plan and get your garden ready for spring, summer and fall planting. We like to follow the advice of Sally Cunningham, master gardener at Cornell’s Cooperative Extension, and draw out each of our beds, dividing the space up into crops with a key to inform what gets planted where.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Save space for succession planting – If you plant a row or two of salad greens each week from spring to midsummer (rather than planting a bed all at once), you guarantee yourself a continual harvest throughout the whole growing season!
- Remember to rotate your crops. This will ensure that your soil stays full of nutrients and that disease-prone crops don’t get exposed to last year’s problems. For example, Nightshades (like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants) should never be planted in the same spot year after year, since they’re heavy soil feeders and can easily pick up last year’s fungus and blight. Peas and other legumes are soil builders, and make a great choice in an area that was depleted last season by heavy feeders.
3. Test your soil
All the rain that we get in the Pacific Northwest this time of year saturates the soil in our gardens. If your soil is too wet, cultivating it will damage its structure and lead to poor yields.
Test your soil’s workability by digging down 8 inches, and gathering a handful of soil into a ball. Toss the ball about 6 inches into the air and then back into your open palm. Did it break? Your soil is ready to be worked! Did the ball stay together? You need to cover your beds with a cloche for another week or two to allow it to dry out before cultivation, and truly get your garden ready for spring planting.
If this is your first year gardening, consider having a full soil test done to look for nutrient deficiencies, proper pH balance and any harmful substances in your soil. If you’re located in Portland, here’s a handy FAQ about how and where to get your soil tested.
Plant your peas (and start your seeds!) and get your tools in order“Sow your seeds by President’s Day,” or so the mantra goes in the Pacific Northwest. President’s day, if you forgot, is TODAY! The time to plant those peas is now (do happy dance)! Be sure to use an inoculant to guarantee high yields.
You can also sow early spring greens in late February, making sure to do so in shallow soil so that they warm with the heat of the day. Our favorite garden tool is the Hori Hori knife, a Japanese digging and weeding knife that is extremely sturdy and versatile.
This year, we’re featuring Pacific Northwest-grown, open pollinated and organic seeds by Adaptive Seeds. These are truly beautiful cultivars, adapted to our region.
5. Turn your food waste into garden fuel by worm compostingCompost is great. Worm compost is awesome. You make food waste. Worms eat food waste. Making a worm bin is easy. It doesn’t get more straightforward than that.
We sell red wiggler worms in the nursery by the pound. Contact us in advance to check availability, and get started making your very own “black gold” – worm castings can be added directly to your garden for a nutrient boost, or steeped to make “worm tea” liquid fertilizer. While you’re at it, pick up a copy of Mary Appelhof’s Worms Eat My Garbage to learn to be a worm composting guru.
We hope that these tips will help you get your garden ready for spring. By the way, many of this advice comes from the Seattle Tilth’s fantastic Maritime Northwest Garden Guide – a month-by-month breakdown of what to do, plant, and harvest in your garden.
How do you get your garden ready for spring? Join the conversation on Facebook!