Although it’s snowing as I write this, it is time to start the cool season vegetable garden. Master Gardener Michael Janik writes in his newsletter (www.michaelsapples.com) that he has already planted peas, fava beans and parsley from pre-sprouted seeds. In addition, he sowed unsprouted seeds of parsley, arugula and cilantro directly into the soil. Early planting allows peas to start producing in May, yielding several pickings before the plants burn up in the June heat. Pea plants also add nitrogen to the soil, making it more fertile for later crops.
Michael starts lettuce, cabbage and spinach from seed in potting soil on the windowsill and transplants the seedlings when they have their second set of leaves. He plants lettuce about three to four inches apart in early March. In April, he thins the plants by pulling every other one for ‘spring’ salads when they begin to touch their neighbor. As the spinach grows, he removes the lower or outer leaves a few at a time. In past years, eight spinach plants provided his family of two with salads twice a week through May.
Reading Michael’s newsletter certainly has me interested in planting now. However, I haven’t amended my garden soil yet. Nevada soils are typically sterile with little organic matter (OM) and often quite alkaline. The best way to improve a soil is to add OM. It improves water penetration, reduces diseases and pest problems, improves fertility and reduces compaction.
The best form of OM to add to a soil is compost or well-aged manure. Uncomposted manure can be high in salts, which burns plants and seeds and it can contain weed seeds, diseases and insect eggs and larvae. Using large quantities of woody materials such as sawdust, bark, leaves and straw will promote nitrogen deficiency in plants because of their high carbon content. You can combat this by adding a nitrogen fertilizer, such as ammonium sulfate, when incorporating high-carbon materials into the soil. Use one pound of fertilizer per 100 square feet for each inch of OM mixed with the soil. If you have never added compost or OM to your garden, begin your soil preparation by digging or tilling in two to three inches of compost or OM six to eight inches deep. Otherwise a couple of inches will refresh your soil.
For more information on soil preparation, see: Preparing Garden Soil, D. Hatch, Utah State Extension Horticulturist, http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/factsheet/HG_H_01.pdf. For more information on vegetables for cool season gardening read: Starting a Vegetable Garden, H. Kratsch, http://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/ho/2010/fs1015.pdf.