Thursday, April 19, 2007

Where's My Periodic Table?

Remember what I woke up to last Thursday? Well, this is what I woke up to today. Weather in Canada, dear reader, is delightfully unpredictable...especially during transition seasons such as Spring.

So today’s gardening post is going to mainly be about bed preparation because, if my suspicions are correct, Spring will arrive fast and furious and due to the weather we’re about a week behind where we should be. As a result, bed preparation is behind as well as seeding so I’m going to have to work a little extra on the ol' garden this week-end to get things ready.

The first thing I’ll address is, you guessed it, bed preparation. My main veggie garden measures 46ft. x 12 ft and I try and use a rotating bed system to help reduce the risk of disease transfer and the potential development of little damaging creepy-crawlies. I say that I “try” to use a rotating bed system because of the veggies I like to grow. Sometimes planting same family crops can’t be avoided but I do my best, and on occasion I don’t really worry about it because some plants are more susceptible to disease than others.
With the rotating system in mind perhaps you’d like to know what the main families are? They break down like this:
Root Crops- includes beet, onions, parsnips, potato, turnip, leek, carrot, etc.
Cabbage Family Crops- includes cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, radish, etc.
Other Crops- includes tomato, pepper, corn, eggplant, pea, spinach, squash, lettuce, cucumber, etc.

Now that last one is pretty broad, don’t you think? It is, but each of these categories can be broken down further and some plants are companions to one another. A good rule of thumb is to keep cabbage family and root family crops separated from one another and having the other family in between the two. At the bottom of this post I’ll have a much more detailed veggie family list since that may also help you determine what plants you want to grow and where you’ll be able to plant them.

Selecting which veggies you want to grow is really the first step to bed preparation. Once you’ve decided what you’d like to plant you’ll need to find out if the veggies have any special requirements such as soil nutrients, if they need a certain pH and if they’ll only grow at certain temperatures. Nutrients, the two biggies being phosphorous and nitrogen, can be adjusted by adding amendments such as wood ashes, pine needles, leaves, bone meal, fish emulsion, etc. depending on what your soil is lacking. That said, nothing beats a good well rotted manure and/ or compost. These additives are best added as early in the season if possible or if you were really on the ball you added them back in autumn last year.
As far as pH levels go (do you feel like you’re back in high-school science class yet?) You can buy a pH meter and test it yourself or you can get samples from several areas of your garden and take them into a feed store or municipal office and have them test it if they have that service available. pH levels will be altered with the addition of the above fertilizers. A good veggie soil should have a pH between 6.5 - 7.5.
If you need to pre-warm your soil you can buy a black plastic mulch at almost any gardening store and I believe they can also be purchased at hardware stores as well. It’s a mulch so you can place it over the soil, marking off where you’ll be planting, put some soil in between the rows and then just let the mulch do it’s magic.

Planting seeds can begin when the daytime air temperatures are consistently at or above 15 Celsius (60 Fahrenheit). In fact, veggies such as peas, lettuce, potatoes, carrots and potatoes prefer the cooler weather and in the case of peas, the development of the plants will slow or stop altogether if the temperatures get much above 22 Celsius (70 Fahrenheit). These plants will tolerate light frosts (some veggies actually have improved flavour after a light frost) but nothing too severe which is why it’s important not to go planting crazy after only one or two warm days. When it comes to gardening patience pays off in a big way.

A little tidbit that can be applied to both veggie and flower gardens is that tidying up the beds goes a long way to developing healthy plants. As you can see from above I have flower debris left over from last year in this part of one of my flower beds. Not only that but I have flowers that are trying to poke through this mess. Below I’ve cleaned it up and the flowers are happy now because they can grow unhindered. It's okay to leave some debris behind just in case the temps do drop a bit too low then the leftovers from last year can provide some insulation.

In my veggie garden it’s already clean, I picked out weeds just this morning, but I do have some pansies in the flower bed next to the veggie garden. It would seem that some renegade pansy seeds broke away from the fray and decided to plunk themselves right in the veggie garden. That’s not where they belong. That said, I’ll let them grow there for the time being so they can get a bit bigger and then the first or second week of May (depending on the weather) I’ll transplant them to one of the flower beds, where they belong. These are the grown up pansies that kicked the young ones out of the house... they must've been free-loading.

I’ll leave you to digest all that info, dear reader. If the weather is warm enough where you are it would be a good time to get your soil in order. Make sure it’s rich in nutrients, and be sure to turn the soil over either by hand or with a roto-tiller, as this will aerate the soil and kill any little creepies that would threaten your plants. Below is a more specific veggie family list:

Beet Family- beets, chard, spinach
Cabbage Family- broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard, kale, kohlrabi, radish, turnip
Carrot Family- carrot, celery, chervil, cilantro, dill, parsley, parsnip
Grass Family- corn
Lettuce Family- artichoke, chicory, endive, lettuce
Lily Family- chives, garlic, leek, onion
Pea Family- beam , cowpea, pea, peanut
Squash Family- cucumber, melon, pumpkin, squash
Tomato Family- eggplant, pepper, potato, tomato

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