This is my favorite gardening time of the year. Spring has finally arrived in Northern California, and the long, cold rains have abated. While the winter rains have stimulated a lot of weed growth, the garden has a fresh, new look, with young, healthy, vibrant plants that haven’t peaked yet.
I thought this would be a good moment to share gardening tips and new ideas we are trying out this garden season. It is hard for me to put into words how much joy and rejuvenation I get from gardening; I only hope that as many people as possible give it a try. If you plant only one tree collard or one tomato plant on your porch, it will be well worth the effort. With that, here are my 10 spring tips for the garden.
- When making or planning your garden beds, make each bed about four feet wide. That allows you to reach the middle from either side without EVER stepping on the bed itself. That is our cardinal rule in the garden: Never step on the bed. Compacted soil is perhaps our biggest enemy.
- It may be too late for this tip this year, but in future years, prepare the beds in the fall right after the summer harvest. Then, plant either a cover crop (like favas or clover), which can be dug into the soil, or simply cover with organic straw (not hay). In the spring, simply move the straw to the side and plant in your prepared bed. This is a great way to encourage worm growth.
- When planting tomatoes, dig a fairly deep hole (about 2 feet deep), layer either egg shells or bone meal (or both) at the bottom of the bed, put the soil back in the hole and then plant the tomato seedling in the hole up to its top leaves. Tomatoes are one of the few plants that will grow new roots from buried stems so like to be planted deeply. Tomatoes love calcium-rich bone meal or egg shells and will go searching deep in their holes to find more calcium, thus encouraging deep root development.
- When planting brassicas seedlings (cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc), plant the cotyledons (the first leaves that emerge from the seeds) in the soil. Planting these seedlings deeper than you might think encourages them to have straight stems. If you plant at the soil line, as most people do, the stems tend to bend, which chokes off the circulation
- We have a problem with birds and slugs devouring our young pea plants. A friend suggested getting thin, clear plastic tubes about 18 inches tall and putting a tube over each seed. That way the plant can safely grow unimpeded inside the tube until they are ready to fend for themselves.
- If you are using an organic fertilizer, sprinkle a small handful on top of the soil around each new transplant and scratch it in a bit. This is a more natural way to fertilize than burying the fertilizer deep in the ground.
- With plants that have a tendency to bolt quickly, such as arugula or lettuce, a shade cloth over the bed can fend this off for a few weeks. Just get wire hoops, an 80 percent shade cloth, and stretch the cloth over the hoops and tack it down. It works best to put the staples right next to the wire hoops, as this provides the most stability.
- Similarly, for plants that like more heat this time of year (squash, peppers, tomatoes, etc), you can extend the season by planting them under Reemay cloth to keep them warm. This creates a greenhouse effect right over your garden bed.
- After you water your new transplants in, water sparingly thereafter to encourage deep root growth. This is particularly true in places (like here) in which the soil is still very wet from the winter rains.
- Be in the garden as much as possible. It’s one of the best things you can do for your physical and emotional health.