The days are getting longer, and the temperatures are rising. The snow is melting, and the grass is getting greener. If you really pay attention, you may just hear a bird chirp or two.
Yes, March 20—the first day of spring—will soon be upon us. And if you’re like most of us at Heritage Farm in Decorah, you’ve probably already begun counting the days until the air and soil are warm enough for you to place your seeds or transplants in the ground safely. (Wondering what the average last frost date for your area is? Check out this handy guide.)
Even if you have to wait a bit to open those seed packets, you can spring into action now (or soon!) to ensure your garden is ready to go when the time and temperature are right.
Start a compost pile (if you haven’t already)
Often described as the “black gold” or “superfood” of the gardening world, compost adds nutrients to your soil that your plants need to grow. Start cooking up your own compost out of food scraps and yard “waste,” and you’ll reap the benefits throughout the gardening months. How do you start? Find a bin to fill or a space to build a pile and then keep adding organic materials—garden clippings, dry leaves, kitchen scraps (like egg shells, leftover fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds)—and then be sure to wait until it becomes crumbly in texture and has a rich, earthy smell. The composting process takes time, but it’s worth the wait.
Prep Your Soil
When the snow starts to melt, thawed ground won’t be far behind. As soon as the soil starts thawing, pull on those gloves, head outside, and do what you can to break up the soil. Digging up the soil will aerate and loosen it, better preparing it for planting. (It’s great exercise too!) If the ground is soft enough, you can also work in compost or other organic matter, depending on the composition of your soil.
If you don’t know your soil composition, take some time to test it. Testing a soil sample can pay big dividends in your garden as it will tell you what its pH (acidity or alkalinity) is, which nutrients are already contained in your soil, and which you may need to add. If your soil pH isn't ideal, you can amend it by adding materials that optimize the soil’s makeup. “A very high or very low soil pH may result in plant nutrient deficiency or toxicity,” notes the trusty Old Farmer’s Almanac of the importance of pH balance in soil. “A pH value of 7 is neutral; microbial activity is greatest, and plant roots absorb nutrients best, when the pH is in the 5.5 to 7 range.” You can pick up a soil testing kit at many garden shops or ask your local extension office if it will test your soil. Many provide the service for free. Remember, soil health plays a big role in garden health and crop yield.
Find and Clean Your Tools
Get your shovels and spades in shape before you have to use them, and you’ll sow those seeds even quicker when spring does come to stay. Whether you have a trove of garden tools or just a couple multipurpose ones, take time to find and clean them prior to your first use. A good cleaning helps remove caked-on dirt or rust and ensure your tools work better and last longer.
Order Your Seeds and Transplants
Haven't yet ordered your favorite open-pollinated or heirloom seeds or transplants? No worries! There’s still time to receive them before the ground in most areas of the country is ready for those cool-season crops.