It’s March Madness! Basketball enthusiasts are living the dream for the next few weeks. How many of you have had your brackets broken?
There is another reason for the March Madness. March can be hot like this week and cold like a week ago. The cold, wintry days are probably not behind us. Warm weeks like this remind us that we should plan not to plant our vegetable gardens.
Sunday’s calendar will say it’s spring, but don’t be in too much of a rush.
Planning is an important aspect of gardening. It’s tempting to skip this step, but over time you’ll find it’s necessary for a successful garden.
Remember that plant families should be rotated. Since plants have different nutrient needs, planting the same vegetable families in the same space year after year will deplete the nutrients in that area. For example, potatoes, tomatoes, and other members of the nightshade, or nightshade, family are heavy feeders, which means they use up a lot of nutrients in the soil.
Diseases are also specific to certain plant families. It is important to clean up the vegetable garden at the end of the season because spores on infected plant material can quickly infect newly planted crops.
Potatoes and tomatoes are both susceptible to mildew and late blight. If infected plant material is left over winter, the spores can quickly find their host if the area is replanted with potatoes and tomatoes.
Rotating plant families is also important to protect against annoying insects. Insects that specialize in one type of vegetable will easily find their favorite dish. Insects such as potato beetles overwinter in nearby soil and will emerge in the same area the following year.
A practical reason to plan your garden is to have a realistic idea of what your garden will look like. On paper, you can move plants and beds. You can anticipate the spacing and the amount of space the vegetables need.
Be sure to include family favorites, as well as any new varieties you want to try. If you decide to trellis cucumbers or beans, you might find enough open space to try a new variety of heat-tolerant lettuce.
If this is your first attempt at a vegetable garden, you’ll want to do a little planning to avoid problems later down the road. The first consideration would be to choose an appropriate site.
It is generally wise to start small for the first garden. Often people take on more than they can handle and can’t keep up with their garden maintenance.
There are several factors to consider when selecting a garden site. Sunlight is a factor to consider when looking for a garden site. The garden should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day, eight to ten hours a day is ideal.
Another factor is proximity to home. The closer the vegetable garden is to your home and the easier it is to access, the more likely you will use it.
The third consideration is the floor. The soil should be fertile, well-drained and easy to cultivate. Avoid wet areas where the ground remains soggy after a rain. Heavy, sandy clay soils can be improved by incorporating organic matter such as compost.
The fourth factor to consider is water. The garden will need at least 1 inch of water per week. Therefore, place the garden near a water source.
The final consideration when selecting a garden site is good air drainage. Avoid placing the garden in low places like the base of a hill. These areas can be slow to warm up in the spring and frost forms more easily there because cold air cannot escape.
Before planting vegetables, you need to take the time to prepare the soil. If the soil of the garden site is heavy clay soil or light sandy soil, the soil can be made more loamy by adding organic matter (compost).
You can incorporate a 2 to 3 inch layer of compost in late winter or early spring before preparing the soil for planting. A soil sample should be taken every two to three years to find out the pH or acidity of your soil. The ideal pH for most vegetables is 6.0 to 6.5. The soil test report will tell you how much lime and fertilizer your garden soil will need.
When applying lime, try to apply it several months before planting. Soil test information is available at the Clinton County Extension Office. Making these preparations now can lead to a rewarding harvest of freshly grown vegetables this year.
The fun begins
Once your plan is ready, the fun begins with locating seeds or plants for the garden.
When it comes to which vegetable to plant, you can divide vegetables into two groups: warm season and cold season. Cool season vegetables will do best in the cooler months of spring and fall. These vegetables can tolerate colder temperatures and some light frosts.
Examples of cool season vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, lettuce, onions, garden peas, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips. The advantage of most cool season vegetables is that you can plant them for a spring and/or fall garden.
Warm season vegetables perform best in hot weather and cannot tolerate freezing or frost. Examples of warm season vegetables include beans, cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, squash, tomatoes, watermelon, and zucchini.
Warm season vegetables are best planted from late April to May, once the risk of frost has passed.
Mark your calendars, the Clinton County Master Gardeners will have their annual Vegetable, Herb and Flower Plant Sale on Saturday, April 30 at the Clinton County Fairgrounds. This is a great opportunity to get all the necessary plants for your garden.
Stay tuned for more details.
Tony Nye is the state coordinator of The Ohio State University’s Small Farm Extension Program and has been an OSU extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for more than 30 years, currently serving Clinton County and Miami Valley EERA.