April is just around the corner, meaning that you can finally wake the garden up and get it ready to grow. Cooler weather crops such as peas, potatoes and onions are ready to go in the ground now, especially in warmer climates, and by the end of the month in cooler climates. The same goes for transplanting hardy parsley seedlings or established plants that have overwintered, as well as any established lettuce and spinach. Cool weather plants can actually wilt or bolt in very hot weather, so planting them early on allows you to enjoy bountiful early summer harvests. So, are you ready to get your hands dirty?
Since different climates and zones have different growing seasons, the best way to determine whether or not your garden is ready for planting is to do a simple soil test. Scoop a handful of soil and see whether it crumbles apart or clumps up like dough – if the latter, it is still too wet to work and plant in. Planting in (and walking on) wet soil can cause compaction, which leads to weak root growth and poor drainage, as the roots and water have little space to move around underground. If you are planting in raised beds for the first time, check the soil somewhere else in your yard. Also make sure that risk of hard frosts has passed, although potatoes can be planted two weeks before the last anticipated freeze date in your area.
Once the soil is dry enough, it needs to be loosened up so that those seeds and sprouts can make their way up to the sunlight. Large gardens will need to be turned with a rototiller, spading fork or plow, but smaller gardens and raised beds can be worked with a garden fork, shovel or even a hand fork. Break the soil up to the consistency of small gravel or even finer if possible. Augmenting your garden beds with a thin (1-2 inch) layer of compost on top is a great idea, especially if the soil is high in clay content.
Pea seeds should be planted 1 inch apart 1 to 2 inches deep. It is best to plant peas in single rows rather than double rows to make harvesting easier. Companion plants such as lettuces and onions can be planted on the sides of the rows if they are wide enough – approximately 1 ½ feet. Once the pea sprouts get to be about 2 inches tall and begin sending out curly tendrils, they will want something to climb on. If you’ve planted in rows, driving a stake or sturdy, notched stick at both ends of a row will allow you to string lines across the rows that the peas can climb up on. Other trellising methods can be found here.
Leaving seed potatoes in a dark and dry closet in a cardboard box or paper will allow the eyes to sprout. To prepare potatoes for planting, cut your seed potatoes into chunks, making sure there are at least 1 or 2 eyes (sprouts) on each chunk. Let these pieces dry for at least 24 hours on a tray or rack before planting, as it decreases risk of decay and disease. The potato seeds should be planted 6 inches deep and 1 foot apart. Using a sharp tool or stick is handy for making holes to drop your potato chunks into EYE SIDE UP and cover with soil.
To transplant parsley, simply prepare your garden bed or container as mentioned above and dig a hole about 3-4 inches deep for your transplant. Gently loosen the soil around the roots of the transplant and carefully move from its container to the bed, making sure not to disturb the roots. A ring of compost placed around the base of the plant will allow the roots to suck up the nutrients, helping the plant deal with the shock of being moved.
Make sure to water any transplants well right after they have been put in the ground. If there is not rain in the forecast, your other plantings (peas, potatoes, onions) will also need water. Depending on climate, they may need it on a daily basis, so make sure the soil stays damp, but not too wet.