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Counting Down the Days to Growing Season 2015

Spring flower gardenIt’s almost here. The excitement is building. Here in the Northeast – and much of the rest of the country – it means an end to the constantly accumulating snow and subzero temperatures. If you haven’t read the title there’s no doubt the anticipation is killing you. Yup, it’s time to not only think about growing season, but also time to put plans into action, because the growing season is almost here. If you haven’t been thinking about your growing plans in 2015, it’s certainly time. We’re going to go over some of the preliminary steps to a successful season, including how to get healthy, nutrient-rich soil, and luckily for the snow ridden, there are key preparations that can be made, even if there is snow outside.

Indoor Preparation

For those with an insatiable craving to  garden, this is a rough time of year, but, much like a fly fisherman that furiously ties flies in the off weeks, there are ways that you can satisfy your fixation. You can start by drafting plans and layouts for your garden. Identify what plants you’re looking to cultivate and how many you have room for. If you’re used to buying plants from a nursery, this might be the year to try starting your own seedlings. This is a great way to save some money, but more importantly it allows you to get involved before growing season has actually started. When to start seedlings largely depends on where you live and what you’re planning to grow, but often times the seed packets offer some information. If not, a quick search on the Internet will provide instant answers.

Seed packetsseed starting

The winter months are also a good time to prepare equipment and make sure that it is clean and functioning properly. For those that aren’t mechanically inclined, check lawnmowers, weed whackers and anything else with a motor now. Come spring time repair shops will be booked, and you never know how long you’ll have to wait, even for minute issues.

Outdoor Preparation

Garden CleaningOnce the weather in your region permits, you can start outdoor preparations. Obviously you’re going to have to start with some spring cleaning. Clean out your garden plots and flower beds, prune trees and shrubs and, most importantly, get rid of all the weeds. Not only are weeds unsightly, but they also deplete the soil of its valuable – and limited – nutrients, leaving other plants malnourished and unhealthy.

You’ll also have to address the soil. Creating and maintaining healthy soil is not in any way difficult, but there are a few factors to consider. A comprehensive guide to soil would require hundreds of pages and tens of thousands of words, so we’re going to do our best to give a concise overview.

Soil is made up of rocks and minerals, water, air and organic matter – all of which are essential.  Up to half of the soil can be made up of rocks and minerals that have been broken down by numerous environmental factors, and they largely make up the consistency and tactile nature of the soil. Air and water are essential to organic life and grower, and to reduce their depletion, you should do everything possible to not over compact the soil or work with it when it is oversaturated. If you find that the soil is oversaturated, tilling it can help to introduce air and dry it out.

Tilling soil

The organic matter in soil is made from decomposed plants and organisms that once made their home there. It promotes the beneficial relationship between the soil, atmosphere and outside water by supporting the proper amounts of moisturization and aeration. Adding fresh compost and other organic matter to the soil can help to promote its overall health, so besides being an essential component of soil, it’s also a valuable tool.

Soil testing Healthy soil also depends on the proper pH and nutrient levels, and a testing kit from Growers Supply will show where your soil’s levels stand. Soil’s pH is important, as plants won’t grow in an environment that is too acidic or basic. Most plants thrive when the pH is in the range of 6.5 to 6.8. When the soil gets outside of this range the bioavailablity of the nutrients is decreased and plants tend to become unhealthy. If the soil falls outside of this range, it should be addressed overtime. Trying to fix this quickly isn’t good for the soil, so a slow approach is best. If the soil is basic, but otherwise healthy, adding 1.5 to 2 lbs. of sulphur per every 100 square feet can help to normalize the pH.  Sandy soils will call for less – about 1 lb. – and clay soils will need more – about 2 lbs.

For acidic soil, limestone can be used to rectify the problem. In healthy soil it takes about 7 to 8 lbs. of limestone per 100 square feet, while a sandy soil will only need about 3 to 4 lbs. and a clay soil will need 8 to 10 lbs. Although it is approaching spring, the best results come when limestone is added in the fall, since it needs a couple of months to work its way through.

Adding fresh compost throughout the year is an effective way to support proper pH levels.

Nutrients are found naturally in soil, and they are sourced from decomposed plant matter and organisms, fertilizers, compost and manure. There are a number of essential nutrients found in soil, but the most important are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

Healthy Soil

Nitrogen is a major component of chlorophyll, so clearly it’s also a major component in most plants, and because of this soil can quickly become depleted. Luckily, there are a number of ways to fix this. Commercial fertilizers are probably the most popular way to help, but they often don’t provide long-lasting results. Adding fresh compost can help to increase nitrogen, and you could also try growing plants that don’t need massive amounts of nitrogen. Peas and beans don’t require the atmospheric nitrogen that they consume, and in turn, they release this excess nitrogen back into the soil. For those with basic soil, adding spent coffee grounds can help. However, coffee grounds are acidic, so they should be used with caution, and the soil should be tested after.

Coffee GroundsAdding coffee grounds

To improve phosphorus levels there is also the option of using commercial fertilizers, but growers can also try bone meal or rock phosphate. For moderately deficient soil, scattering approximately 2 lbs. of bone meal per 100 square feet or 2.5 lbs. of rock phosphate over the same area can help to boost phosphorus content. More might be necessary for severely depleted soil.

Kelp Meal

Potassium depletion can also be addressed in similar ways. Again, commercial fertilizers are an easy fix, but many growers opt for kelp or granite meal. It takes about 1 lb. of kelp meal per 100 square feet for moderately depleted soil or 5 lbs. of granite meal over the same area. Just like addressing phosphorus levels, more kelp or granite meal may be needed for severely depleted soil.

The countdown has begun, and the growing season is already here. No matter where you live or what it looks like outside, there are preparations that you can begin to make now. Start with some indoor preparations if you’re still under feet of snow, and soon enough you’ll be able to get outside and starting getting ready. If you have any questions regarding preparations or soil, leave us a comment.

Seedling

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