Let Soil Temperature Guide You

A few days ago, before the snowstorm, Darlene and I took the soil temperature at the St Gregory Garden. It was sixty degrees and that’s a signal to get going with seeding and planting. When you use a soil thermometer (available at nurseries and hardware stores) get a reading where you’ll be sowing seed or putting in a plant–two or three inches instead of deep down. As winter disappears its the soil surface that shows how warm and suitable the soil is. Read that page of your newsletter which tells you which vegetables you can safely set out–plants or seeds. Bear in mind that we have short seasons, so you need to use quick-maturing kinds. Count the number of days until hot weather arrives because then the pollen of flowering plants such as bush beans will be killed and you won’t get a crop, even though the plants are thriving. You may need to hurry.

However,don’t skimp on soil preparation. Organic matter, such steer manure,needs to be added twice a year because it quickly disintegrates and nitrogen and phosphate gets consumed by plants. Our twenty-foot gardens call for ten bags of steer manure and five pounds each of ammonium phosphate and soil sulfur.

With a garden full of thriving winter vegetables it’s not easy to do a good job of soil preparation but if you have an empty garden that enables you to rototill the whole length you have a chance to level the bed from beginning to the end. Some gardens follow the unevenness of the ground and your plot may have a high end and a low end. Eliminate these by raking the whole length until the floor of your plot is level, lengthwise and sideways. This makes sure that irrigation water is evenly distributed– an important point when summer’s heat begins. The ups and downs of an un-level plot encourages evaporation at the high places where salt accumulates.

Some gardeners who sowed lettuce and greens earlier have wonderful growth, but any crowded seedlings need to be thinned. Thinnings can be transplanted or eaten–don’t waste them. Remember that the Kales continue to thrive during the heat of the summer months. Don’t sow a lot of lettuce seeds at once but sow a small amount every three or four weeks until June when the weather gets too hot for lettuce. Strawberry plants that have now become crowded should be thinned and transplanted, too. May and June are the harvest months if the plants have space to grow.

Keep up the good work. You’re going to have plenty to eat.

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