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John Kobal

Preparing Your Garden for Spring Planting 

By Beet 2024 03 March


It’s not too early to think about planting a spring garden!  In fact, now is the best time to begin preparing your soil.  After all, plants derive their nutrients from the soil.  Right?! 

So, what to do first?   

Enriching soil via COVER CROPPING is a good start.  Some cover crops draw (fix) nitrogen form the air and deposit it in the soil.  What could be better than free nitrogen?  Cover crops provide biomass as well.  They sustain life in the soil and provide roots for mycorrhizae to attach to.  Cover crops also help protect against soil erosion.  Weeds and other unwanted plants may take hold if one leaves ground bare for any length of time.  Cover crops provide a positive ground cover to help stifle otherwise unwanted plants.  Just simply dig in the cover crop when spring finally arrives.  How about that!  Free nitrogen and biomass for small creatures to feed on.  Some cover crops are even winter hardy, like hairy vetch and Austrian field peas.  Hairy vetch is my go-to favorite because it does what is described above, and also bees and other pollinators love its beautiful purple flowers if one leaves it to grow in the spring.  And seed once, and then harvest the next season’s seeds – how’s that for economy? 

SOIL is the most important part of growing a garden.  It goes without saying that healthy soil needs to be maintained from year to year.  Remember that plants need nutrients and those nutrients come from the soil, so it makes sense that the healthier the soil, the healthier your plants will be.  A HEALTHY SOIL MEANS HEALTHY PLANTS.  And healthy plants mean a healthy you.  

Now, let us talk about NO-TILL gardening, an approach that emulates the natural environment.  Ever see a torn-up, tilled forest floor?  And yet, things grow quite nicely without tilling.  When you walk on a forest floor, the ground feels spongy.  What you are noticing is the decomposition process in action.  Materials are decomposing underneath newer litter that has fallen on the forest floor.  Leaves of all sorts are decaying and providing nutrients to living trees and plants.  What you do in your garden should emulate what happens in nature.  No one is tilling up the forest floor.  The next best thing to using a cover crop to cover bare ground is to use leaves.  Leaves provide compostable materials, feeding the little soil-dwelling critters and nourishing the soil naturally. 

Here’s a new term for you: SOIL HORIZONS.  Think of soil horizons as different layers of soil.  Without going into too much “science”, each horizon supports different life forms.   And these life forms live quite nicely within their horizon and have relationships with the creatures the live above and below them.  When one tills the soil, disturbing the soil horizons, the creatures that call the soil home get all jumbled up.  How would you like to come home one day to a leveled house in a barren landscape with nowhere to go to get dinner?  That’s what tilling the soil does to those tiny creatures who should be our garden friends.   

POOP.  Okay let’s talk about poop.  All those little creatures that call the soil home live, poop and die.  They turn soil into life sustaining material that plants love.  Yup, soil is alive with not just earthworms.  Think ecosystem.  There’s a myriad of life below our feet.  All the little creatures feeding on live and decaying matter just out of sight, below our feet. A tablespoon of healthy soil can contain 10 billion microbes, and countless living creatures.  Gardeners have been involved with this original World Wide Web for a long time – much longer than the Internet has been in existence.    

So, what is the take-away?  Well, it’s really simple.  Emulate nature as closely as possible.  Practice no-till gardening.  Don’t allow the soil to be bare (cover crops or leaves/mulch to the rescue).  When it comes time to plant seeds or seedlings next spring, simply brush aside the ground cover, and plant right through it.  Allow the matter to decay in place to provide nutrients for the soil-dwelling creatures that are mutually beneficial to both you and your plants. 




Vegetable Gardening for Fun and Reward as a Master Gardener

By Beet 2023 03 March

No one knows it all.  So, proceed with the understanding that you will learn more and more each year of you endeavors.  Everyone has a ‘green thumb’:  sometimes it takes peeling back a few layers of “brown” to find it.

So why would you want to grow vegetables?  Flavor, Freshness, Better Health, a Personal Sense of Success.  Hey, I grew that!  If you grow it yourself, you can choose the variety that suits your taste.  What could be better?  You can harvest at the peak of flavor and freshness.  Remember, eating healthy vegetables means a healthier you.  Doctors tell us that we can’t eat too many vegetables.

Growing your own vegetables means avoiding chemical pesticides, no plastic packaging required, no transportation costs, fresh from the garden (think: quality), personal satisfaction, and outdoor enjoyment.

Vegetable gardens can be a year-round project.  Your vegetable garden will keep you favorably occupied and participating in the learning process.  What better way to keep your brain and body healthy and challenged!  Refer to the Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley – Vegetables, Berries, Melons for appropriate tasks and times.  Following is an abbreviated monthly list:

  • January – February: Planning & ordering seeds
  • March – April: Start seeds

Check on garden

  • May:                        Purchase plants at the Spring Garden Fair
    Check irrigation system, begin watering
    Plant seedlings/starts after last frost
  • June – July: Water and check for bugs/disease
  • July – September: Enjoy bountiful harvests
    Plant fall veggie crops & cover crops
  • September: Install row covers to extend season
  • October:                  Harvest last of summer crops
  • November: Put garden to bed, winterize to protect soil
  • December: Rest, pat yourself on the back, and gather your thoughts for next year.
    Anticipate catalog arrivals.


Okay, you’re convinced that a vegetable garden is right for you.  Now what?  First you need to decide what to grow.  Will it be a victory garden (vegetables, fruit, herbs), or specialty crops (like mushrooms, ginseng, or garlic)?  Next, you’ll need to select a location.  If it’ll be fresh herbs, you will most likely put it close to the kitchen.  Determine the type of soil you have, and your physical limitations.  Perhaps a raised bed or two will fit the bill.  How many hours of sunlight will be needed; 8-10 is ideal, without the murderous summer afternoon heat (direct sun).  A good location has a water source and good drainage.  Protection from heavy winds is advised, but good air circulation is a must.


The roots of most vegetables need a minimum of 6-inches of soil.  Perennials require a deeper root structure.  The texture of the soil should be friable, moist and crumbly.  Shoot for a soil pH of about 6.5; that’s good for most vegetables.  Planting tips can be found in the “Garden Guide”, pages 58-69.

Most soils in the Rogue Valley are slightly acidic

  • Test your soil for appropriate pH
  • Most vegetables fall between 6.0 – 7.0 pH



So now that you’ve got all that down… How do you choose what to grow?  Below is one decision guide:

  • How to choose
    • What are your favorites?
    • What will your children actually eat?
    • What would give you the greatest satisfaction?
    • Do you want to experiment with different varieties?
    • What’s going to draw you into the garden?
    • Know your growing season.
  • How much to grow
    • Pace yourself, you’re not feeding an army
    • Understand plant yields over time
  • Choose varieties that fit the climate
    • Know your frost dates


Will you be starting from seeds or seedlings?  How much time do you have?  Starting from seeds is less costly but that takes more time and patience.  Remember what we teach in the Practicum – HOWL (Heat, Oxygen, Water, Light).

For both seeds and transplants: choose plants from similar growing areas as ours, read catalogs for the best growing zones, and ask your neighbors about their success with different varieties.  Seed catalogs can be immensely helpful.  The better catalogs describe resistance/tolerance to diseases.  Planting disease resistant seeds/plants is a good way to help ensure success.

Wait for the soil to warm sufficiently to accommodate your spring/summer plants (approx. 70-85 degrees °F.  Winter crops need a good start, so plant them in the ground in mid-August.

The planting seed depth will vary by seed.  Planting depth is recommended as 2-3 times the diameter of the seed.  If you’re saving seeds, save only open-pollenated (OP) seeds from healthy plants.  Avoid saving squash seeds unless you are sure they have not been cross pollenated with another variety of squash.  Saving hybrid seeds is a real ‘no-no’; they won’t produce the same plant that they came from.

Transplanting seedlings requires hardening-off, usually 7-10 days.  Plant only stocky, healthy, and disease-free plants.  Handle seedlings carefully by their leaves, not stems.  Watering is critical the first two weeks as the roots are near the soil surface and will dry out quickly.  Fertilize during the growing period, ensuring that the right soil nutrients are available:

N – Nitrogen:       vegetative growth

P – Phosphorus:  rooting, flowering, fruiting

K – Potassium:     plant metabolism and vigor

Be advised that liquid fertilizers provide faster plant access to nutrients (e.g., fish emulsion).

Consider installing row covers to keep out harmful bugs.  They help warm the soil and can shelter plants from scorching sunlight.  Remember to remove the covers if the plants need pollination.

Harvest times

  • Leafy crops – pick outer leaves at a young age and they will continue to grow (lettuce, bok choy, spinach)
  • Legumes – pick when slightly less than mature (beans and peas)
  • Sweet corn – pick when kernels pricked by fingernail exude milky juice
  • Fruiting crops – pick when
    • Fruit is slightly immature (summer squash, cucumbers)
    • Fully ripe (tomatoes, melons)
    • Cantaloupes are ready at ‘full slip’ (gentle tug will release)
    • Watermelons are ready when tendril nearest fruit browns
  • Winter squash & pumpkins – harvest when totally dry, leave 2-inches of stem
  • Dry beans
    • Remain on plant until it browns
    • Shell beans, and freeze seeds 2-weeks to kill weevils
  • Root Crops – use fresh from garden (carrots, turnips, leeks, beets, green onions)
  • Potatoes – leave in ground until plant browns, store in a cool, dark, dry location
  • Dry onions & garlic
    • harvest when 1/3 of green tops turn brown
    • Spread out bulbs in dry, shady location for 2-weeks


Do Yourself a BIG favor: KEEP RECORDS.  Even though you believe you will remember what was planted where, from year to year, write it down.  Also record the results of your activities for future reference.

Protect your soil throughout the cold season.  A good rule of thumb is to never leave soil bare.  Use cover crops and/or sheet mulching.  Build your soil in the fall.  Life continues below the soil surface.  Worms, micro-organisms, and other creatures need protection, moisture, and food.


Now that you’ve absorbed all the above, start your plan.  Happy Gardening.



Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley – Year-Round & Month by Month. This book contains a wealth of gardening information. You can purchase it at our local Grange Co-op or at the OSU Extension office for $21.00. It can also be purchased on-line at Note that a shipping fee will be applied.