Monday, March 12, 2012

Getting Your Garden Ready for Spring

Growing up in the 'burbs', the daughter of Italian parents we always had a vegetable garden.  We had string beans, eggplant, tomatoes of course, squash, pumpkin, strawberries and more.  There really was nothing better than having fresh, just picked string beans at dinner.  In the Summer, we would make home made sauce directly from the tomatoes -- absolutely nothing better.  

My cousin Franco who owns a farm inland from the Amalfi Coast, gave us his tomato seeds and specific instructions on how to grow them - Quando ha piantato dapprima hanno bisogno di molta luce, molto calore. Il suolo deve essere tenuto umido. Una volta germogliano, devono essere tenuto la borsa termica a intorno a 18 a 20 gradi. Quando la pelle esteriore degli inizi di pianta addensarli molto sole, molto calore (26 gradi) e molta acqua. Non sceglierli finché sono delle destre mature sulla vite.  What?  You think I was just going to tell you?  Franco says the Americans grow vegetables for size.  The Italians grow them for taste.

You can have a garden in an urban environment, in fact, the heat of the city can be great for growing some really tasty vegetables.  800 Jackson has an eco roof, many units in town have balconies, terraces and roof decks.  I grew lettuce in containers last year and when I wanted salad, I would just cut what I needed for dinner..... Nothing better.

Here are some tips for getting your urban garden ready for Spring.

1. Start A Batch of Compost – Early Autumn is a great time to start a big batch of compost for use in the Spring. Not only do you have a ton of green material now, but leaves are beginning to fall giving you the “browns” you need as well. Unless you have the space for a huge compost pile that will create and retain its own heat, you’ll want to be sure to use a composter to help keep the material “cooking” during the cooler weather. Unless you live in a warmer climate, you don’t want to keep adding food waste to your composter during the winter months. Put all of your compost materials together within a few weeks and then let it cook.

2. Start a Vermicomposter – A vermicomposter is different than a regular composter in that it makes use of red wiggler worms, instead of heat and microorganisms, to decompose food waste and create nutrient-rich worm castings. We’ve kept a vermicomposter in our home, right next to the garbage can in the kitchen, all winter long and never experienced any odor or worms trying to make a run for it. As long as you give them the food scraps they need (and not more than they can eat before decomposition begins) they are very happy to stay put. If using a vermicomposter that catches “worm tea” (gardener’s black gold), you can use that liquid to naturally fertilize your indoor herb garden. Then in the spring, take all of your worm castings and enrich your garden soil before planting. It’s a great way to keep food waste out of the landfills and have free, organic fertilizer on hand.

3. Sow Plants and Bulbs for OverWintering – Now is the time to plant flower bulbs, garlic, onions and shallots to automatically come up in the spring. There are also many vegetable varieties that can be planted in late summer and early fall for harvest all winter long or spring to life once winter begins to come to a close. Doing this gives you an extra or extended harvest of edibles way before planting your spring/summer garden. These plant varieties include carrots, parsnips, cabbage, kale, chard, Asian greens, broccoli and cauliflower. There are so many more winter vegetables as well.

4. Plant Cover Crops- Cover crops are not just for farmers. For garden areas where you’re not going to grow winter vegetables or if you feel that you need to improve your soil quality, then consider planting a cover crop. Imagine an entire garden bed covered in emerald-green and crimson red flowers (Crimson Clover as pictured above). This is the easiest, most economical and considered one of the best procedures used for proper soil management. The concept is simple: plant one or more specific varieties of crops, let it grow all fall, winter and early spring, then cut it and till the material right into the soil before planting your spring garden. These crops provide the “food” of soil, encourage nitrogen-fixing bacteria to thrive, set down expansive root systems to break up soil, inhibits weed growth and provides organic material to improve soil structure, water retention and aeration. Examples of cover crops are clovers, beans, peas, vetch and favas. Be sure to coat seeds with inoculate if they are not purchased pre-inoculated. Add agricultural limestone or dolomite lime to soil before sowing.

5. Collect Egg Shells- Egg shells are useful in the garden in a few ways. For one, they consist mostly of calcium carbonate which is a valuable nutrient needed in the garden. You can add them to your composter now for decomposition or collected during fall and winter and used in the spring. A common problem with tomatoes, eggplant and peppers is blossom end-rot, which is caused by a calcium deficiency. Many experienced gardeners add a handful of crushed egg shells to the bottom of planting holes for these types of veggie plants to help prevent this common fruit ailment.

Also, by crushing the shells and spreading them around your plants or garden bed perimeter, they can help deter slugs, cutworms and snails. These pests simply find the sharp edges of the shells very uncomfortable to climb through. Eventually, the shells find their way into the soil and enrich it for future crops as well.

If you’re concerned about the possibility of Salmonella finding its way into your garden via egg shells, consider boiling your eggs shells before drying and storing them in airtight containers.

6. Cut Back and Mulch Perennials – You’ve probably invested time and money into your perennials and aren’t real keen about wasting that. To keep your perennials coming back year after year they do need a bit of attention. For perennials that are borderline hardy for your specific hardiness zone, add a few inches of mulch to help insulate the root systems from the extreme cold over the winter. Also, they should to be cut back at some point during the year. You can wait until spring, but it’s certainly a task that can be done right before winter hits and then mark it off of your list of springtime to-do’s. However, you should be wary about cutting your perennials back too early in the fall. Doing so could bring on a spurt of tender growth that doesn’t fare well once the hard frosts hit. So if you choose to tend to this chore in the fall, make it late fall so you don’t get any new growth until spring rolls around. Keep in mind, though, that some perennials display nicely during winter months and maybe that’s something you want to do only in spring once you’re ready for new growth.

7. Remove Stuff You Don’t Want Hanging Around Next Year – Be sure to remove and dispose of any diseased or infected plants. Tomatoes, potatoes and squash family plants are some of the biggest culprits of perpetual garden problems. Blight, powdery mildew and other such diseases can hang around all winter long on infected plants and can adversely affect your garden next year. Do not include infected material in your composter either. You’ll just add it back to your garden next season if you do.

If you want to maintain fine-tuned control over what grows where, be sure to dead-head both annual and perennial flowers. If you allow these plants to develop and drop seeds, you’ll be pulling a lot of unwanted starts next spring! However, some folks like letting nature do their work for them – so it just depends on if you like the well-manicured type of garden or the country cottage look. Also, when it comes to seeds, a lot of perennials have seed clusters that stick around on brown stalks all winter long, but are a food source for birds.

Provided by Donna Antonucci
Prudential Castle Point Realty

Donna Antonucci Hoboken Real Estate

Donna Antonucci Hoboken Real Estate

Donna Antonucci

Donna Antonucci