Is it Spring Yet?
Is it Spring Yet?
Food gardeners are typically itching to get out in the garden. Our success in the spring garden will be boosted by being prepared. The month of January is the perfect time to plan the spring food garden. There is time for research and detailed planning. Our "Year-Round Food Gardening in Sonoma County" publication is organized by planting windows and gives us a great overview of our spring opportunities in the Sonoma County garden. Many of us will be planting our peas at the end of February which is just around the corner.
One of the joys of growing our own food is to harvest an expensive grocery store produce item or an exotic variety for only the cost of a seed packet. On a rainy day, visit your local nursery to peruse the crop varieties, or snuggle down with your favorite seed catalog. Buying from a seed company that propagates seeds in similar growing conditions (i.e., northern California or nearby) is a good bet. You can find these companies listed on our "Vegetable Seed Sources" publication. Our challenge to you is to grow one new-to-you crop or variety this spring.
And, don't stop at purchasing seed. Buy a notebook and draw a simple planting plan (later you will record, in the notebook, what you plant, days-to-maturity, how well it does and what tastes best—a great resource for future harvesting and planning). Know the days-to-maturity/harvest and the mature height of your selected crop varieties as well as their root depth and water needs to get the most out of spring planting. Intercropping involves planting crops together that will not compete for space, light or nutrition. Tall plants should be located on the north side of the garden so as not to block sun from shorter crops (unless a crop needs some mid-day sun protection in later spring). Small fast-maturing crops (radishes and Japanese variety turnips, for example) can be planted among longer maturing crops. They will be harvested before others grow tall, and their shallow root systems won't be an issue. Many root crops are happy companions to greens. Shorter crops such as leaf lettuce and spinach can be planted near the base of taller or vining crops such as peas. It's just like deciding where your children will sit at a restaurant table—who "plays nice" with each other?
If the weather is not too wet, you can start readying or expanding your garden beds (never work wet soil). Minimum soil disturbance has lots of positive benefits. But if you are cultivating a new area with heavy clay or sand or it is compacted or filled with rocks or tree roots, you may need to do some serious digging to remove obstacles and/or to incorporate significant amounts of compost to improve the soil. If you didn't plant a cover crop on existing beds, add 2-3 inches of compost to the top of your soil to return nutrients removed by previous crops.There is no need to work it in. If you have conditions where the compost could be washed away by rain or blown by wind, add organic mulch to the top of the compost to protect it (also, 3 to 4 inches of mulch will retard weed growth).
Don't be fooled by our rainy winter. Our long, hot summer will be here before you know it. Before our gardens become intensively planted, it's a good time to add a drip system. Its the most efficient way to apply water to your crops. Master Gardener Electra de Peyster prepared a wonderful step-by-step guide that includes photos and a shopping list. Note that not all irrigation supplies are the same size or quality and may not be interchangeable. For not much more cost, purchase your supplies at a local irrigation or farm supply store. You don't have to be a landscape designer to shop there or to get great advice/assistance.
And, don't forget that January is a great time to plant citrus and bare root fruit trees and berries. Bare root is an economical way to start or expand a home orchard. When selecting fruit tree varieties, consider your Sonoma County microclimate and the "chill days" required by various fruit crops/varieties (stone and pome fruit trees rely on enough dormant winter chilling for flowers and leaf buds to develop normally which, in turn, affects fruit set and quality). For more information, consult your local nursery or see the The California Backyard Orchard.