Chris Hiryak provides gardening tips for the spring growing season.
[dropcap]With[/dropcap] spring just around the corner, gardeners and farmers across Arkansas are anxious and excited to begin preparations for the fast-approaching growing season. Before we know it, the Arctic winds will relinquish their grip on nighttime temperatures and it will be time for the first spring plantings of hardy lettuces, root crops and leafy greens, followed shortly thereafter by warm season crops like squash, melons and tomatoes. Local farmers markets will come alive and market stands will burst with the spring bounty. I am already dreaming about fresh Arkansas strawberries. Although I have come to appreciate the brief window of Southern winters, which permit us to reflect on previous years’ experiences. I thrive in the garden. I am ready to get my hands dirty.
For all of you seasoned veterans, be sure to open yourself up to new ideas, and share your knowledge and experience with someone in your immediate community so that the time-honored tradition of gardening stays deeply rooted in our culture.
If you are a beginning gardener, here are a few tips to keep you on schedule this spring.
You need a baseline soil test to understand where you are in the soil-building process so that you can amend your soil appropriately, depending on what you would like to grow. Understanding your soil composition, pH, cation exchange capacity and nutrient availability is the first step in your journey to build high-quality soil that will produce nutrient-dense food for you and your family. You can have your soil tested for free through the U of A Cooperative Extension Service in your county. For a few dollars extra they can test your soil for organic matter content, which is another key to your success. Organic matter serves as a reservoir of nutrients and water in the soil; it also aids in reducing compaction and increases water infiltration. The Pulaski County extension office is located at 2901 W. Roosevelt Road, Little Rock, AR 72204. Check out their website at www.uaex.edu for more information on programs and services offered through the U of A Cooperative Extension Service.
So that you can make the most of your time in the garden, get organized! Many people spend hours looking for the scissors, that special hand trowel or the “good shovel” that somehow just sprouted legs and ran away — sound familiar? Choose a space that is dedicated to all of the tools related to your garden activities and organize the tools according to how often you use them and ease of access. Google Images, Pinterest and Instagram have unlimited detailed images of cost effective ways to get organized.
Clean up any garden areas that may have accumulated leaves, twigs, or early spring weeds. Remember the key to reducing weed pressure in your garden area is to reduce tilling and never let weeds go to seed. Covering your soil with organic mulches and landscape fabric during the winter months are also great ways to protect the soil and suppress unwanted weed growth. Mulched fall leaves and wood chips can be used to cover the surface of your garden soil over the winter, and removed before spring planting to allow the soil to warm. Cover cropping your garden with clover, rye, oats, winter peas and vetch can also be very beneficial. Just be sure that you have right equipment and time to properly and efficiently incorporate the cover crops into your soil. If you choose to use an organic mulch, then remove the leaves and wood chips from your annual garden plot before spring planting, as tilling in organic mulches in the early spring can tie up much-needed nitrogen for your spring and summer crops. The soil will benefit from the protection from the sun over the winter, and all of that wonderful, partially decomposed carbon (wood chips and leaves) will be great to add to your compost pile this spring.
Tilling on small-scale plots should be minimized to protect the complex and important biological activity in the soil. Raking mature compost into the top few inches of your soil is usually all that will be necessary for most home gardens. Remember that not all compost is created equal. Buy the best compost you can find. This will ensure that you harvest an abundance of nutrient-dense food from your garden plot.
Remove dead, damaged and diseased branches from woody plants. Prune fruit trees, and mulch to retain moisture. Remember to pull the mulch a few inches back from the base of your perennials to prevent rot.
Seeds and Plants
There is no doubt in my mind that using high-quality seeds and plants will set you up for a successful gardening experience. There are a number of reputable seed companies that we use — namely Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek, High Mowing, Fedco Seeds, and Seed Savers Exchange. Propagating seeds can seem daunting at first but with a little care and attention you can produce plenty of healthy transplants for your garden in a south-facing window of your home. If you prefer to leave propagation to the experts, please join us for the Spring Planting Festival on Saturday, April 4, at our G Street Farm in midtown Little Rock. We will have all types of educational workshops, a kids’ planting table and a diverse selection of organic, heirloom and native plants for your garden this season. Please visit our website at www.southerncenterforagroecology.org to learn more about this event.
Every year my reverence for nature only grows more profound. As I am sure many gardeners would agree, the observations that we make through our patience and devotion in the garden are priceless, and serve as the building blocks for the foundation from which our commitment to our craft only strengthens with every passing season. I wish you all the best this growing season.