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Jeff Lowenfels gets back in the garden

by Timber Press on February 9, 2011

in Gardening

We’re hosting a weeklong Get Back in the Garden Giveaway. Our authors will share their processes for getting the garden ready for Spring, and we’ll give away a copy of their book. Join the fun, and share the ways that you prepare for the gardening season, too!

Our third guest blogger is Jeff Lowenfels, co-author of Teaming with Microbes.

Spring? Prepping for gardening season? This may not be on every gardener’s mind right now. After all, it’s hard to think about working in the soil when you hands are frozen to a snow shovel, as is the case in many parts of the country. Still, the snow will melt and spring will be here before we know it. In short, it is time to start prepping for the upcoming growing season and from my experience, nothing makes things easier than a simple, pictorial plan of your yard and gardens.

Don’t panic. You needn’t be an artist or a landscape architect to put this plan (really more of a map) together. Just make a very crude depiction of your yard on a piece of paper or two. Use “X’s” for trees and “Y’s” for shrubs, simple squares or circles where gardens are located, and simple labels for things like lawns, paths, decks, driveways, and outbuildings.

Once you have a map of your yard (and you should be able to put it together in about 10 minutes), copy it on your scanner/printer so you have several copies to work with and make lists on.

One list should show what you need to buy before spring starts: seeds, seedlings, shrubs, fertilizer, and tools. What kinds of vegetables, for example, will go into the garden? What annual starts will you want in the containers on the decks? Mark these things out on your map and take this plan with you any time you shop this spring. Stick to the plan and you won’t waste money on impulse buying.

A second map should list new projects and special chores. Putting in a new garden? Taking out some trees? Write these things down and prioritize them.

It also makes sense to develop a rudimentary calendar to go with your map/plans. What is the day you can start planting outdoors? When will you need to start seeds, indoors or outdoors? When will you need to apply that first hit of aerated compost tea? You get the idea.

Finally, there are two items you may not have thought about during past spring preps, but may want to consider using your plan/map. First, mulch. Green mulches for annuals and vegetables are easy to find all summer. It is much more difficult to come up with brown mulches, the kinds that feed fungi that feed trees, shrubs, and perennials. Use your drawing to guesstimate how much brown mulch you will need. When you can get outside, you can then either collect enough fallen leaves left over from autumn or pick up bagged leaves collected by neighbors who failed to clean up last fall (avoid neighbors with dogs).

Next, don’t forget compost. In preparation for spring, many forget to get their piles going as soon as possible. Depending on where you live, you may be able to start turning your compost now or adding material to it soon. In any case, you will have ready-to-use compost if you just remember your pile while prepping for spring.

Stay out of gardens and off lawns that are wet, as that is not good for the soil food web. And, of course, resist the temptation to rototill, a big no-no these days because of the damage it does to mycorrhizal fungi and other members of the soil food web. Of course, most important, vow to be totally organic this year and start prepping organically for spring.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Theresa N February 9, 2011 at 6:34 am

Lots of great ideas.

2 Donna February 9, 2011 at 6:49 am

wow I love this..great way to organize a seemingly complex task for me every year…with increasing my veggie gardens and placing more veggies and fruits in the landscape this book will be invaluable…I am passionate about being as organic as possible and working on my soil to make it the best it can be…a must buy for me!!

3 Maria February 9, 2011 at 6:57 am

I like the idea of the plan maps. That sound very helpful for any gardener.

4 Mark February 9, 2011 at 8:12 am

Thanks for posting these this week. Makes me want to get out in the yard even when it’s so cold. Spring can’t come too soon!

5 Susan Spaulding February 9, 2011 at 8:31 am

Your ideas are, ideally, helpful. One comment about sticking to a plan so “you won’t waste money impulse buying”: that is just tooo ideal. In fact, my husband and I take a great deal of pleasure in impulse shopping small speciality nurseries in the spring, and have made some of our best plant additions on impulse.

6 Kay Wosewick February 9, 2011 at 9:42 am

Many of us gardeners are terribly uneducated when it comes to soil. Teaming with Microbes should probably be on every gardener’s reading list.

7 Michelle's Green Thumb February 9, 2011 at 9:53 am

I was outside yesterday doing a bit of landscaping & loving the smell of ‘dirt’. I know I’m not supposed to call it that, but it rolls off the tongue so easily. It’s amazing to see all the critters in action at this time of year down in the depths or along the surface. I’ve been ‘compost crazy’ for a while now & am looking forward to learning more from this book.

8 Janelle February 9, 2011 at 10:04 am

I love the simple instructions in this post; I’ve started many a map but end up getting too detailed and then can’t make sense of the “chicken” scratch later. This time, I am going to take 10 minutes, get it done, and start paying attention to what my soil is telling me.

9 Leigh @LarrapinGarden February 9, 2011 at 10:13 am

Since we’re deeply snowed in here, this is a great list of things to do for cabin fever too! Thanks!

10 Iris February 9, 2011 at 10:38 am

wonderful tips to creating a great garden… I am so looking forward to studying and learning from this book…!!

11 Kitty Jungkind February 9, 2011 at 10:39 am

Compost!! I really need a way to speed up the compost. I have horses and their manure plus shavings and leftover hay makes the most lovely compost, but it takes a while. I’d love to have some info on how to get those microbes moving!

12 Elaine February 9, 2011 at 10:47 am

Yeah! Compost. A bigger challenge in the Sonoran Desert. We have to relearn almost everything that we learned gardening in other biomes.

13 Paige Patterson February 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I was feeling completely lazy and not doing anything garden wise other than reading excellent books, and now I HAVE to go and turn my compost.
You’re right though. Good point.

14 Gardeing Jones February 9, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I also make a map every year of my veggie garden- I’ve learned to enter what I’ll grow in pencil since I change my mind a few times before planting. I think I have it down pat, then order a new kind of seed or see somthing I want to try at the nursery.
Thank heaven for erasers!

15 Sally February 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Can’t wait until March 8, when the speaker for the Horticultural Society of Maryland speaks on “Mycorrhizal Fungi: Hidden Friends of Plants!” Sorry, Jeff – is he a rival of yours?

16 Michael February 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Even though I fancy myself a fairly seasoned gardener, I’m still a beginner when it comes to understanding the soil in relevant detail. I suspect that this publication will help to get me where I need to be. Thanks again, Timber Press.

17 Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate February 9, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Today’s winner is Jennifer Chandler, who co-owns a landscape design business (Chandler and Chandler) in California. Congratulations to her, and thanks to everyone else for playing! Tomorrow we’re giving away What’s Wrong With My Plant?, by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth. Feel free to tune in for their good gardening advice, and to try your luck again!

18 Christine Powell February 9, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Great ideas to energize us – the time to act will soon be here!

19 Jeremy P February 10, 2011 at 6:20 am

I have large piles of shredded leaves I put on the garden last fall. You’r article reminded me to put them on the compost pile. Now what to do about the snow…..

20 Jane / MulchMaid February 10, 2011 at 7:57 am

This title was suggested as a great read by instructor Claudia Groth at her Soils presentation in our OSU Master Gardener class. Funny, I thought it was “Teeming with Microbes”!

21 Lewis E. Ward, Figure in the Wood-woodcarver and sculptor February 10, 2011 at 8:22 am

Sound advice and a good tool for learning from your own experiences.
I never studied soil microbiology when in college… To little time. Looking forward to reading the book. Worked in Plant Pathology which taught me that: the soil borne pathogens are a challenge and that the ecology is very complex.

22 jess February 10, 2011 at 10:52 am

This is a great round-up of spring chores, and a perfect link to pass on to everyone who is asking, “What should I be doing right now?”

23 Catie February 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Love it! Time to find out how my soil mixture is doing, and what my compost heap might need.

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