Vegetable gardening time is almost here!
As Phil Case has been discussing the last several weeks, a few cool season vegetables can be planted now and in the coming weeks, but be sure you still give some thought to protection of young seedlings in case we get a hard frost or light freeze, as can still happen in early spring.
Preparing the garden is important and sometimes you may wonder if there is another option besides yearly tilling. And also we are always concerned about the ever present threat of weeds and how best to control them without harming our veggies and over applying chemicals.
No-till gardening involves seeding or planting directly into the soil, using some type of mulch cover. When tilling a garden, it turns up not only the soil, but also the “seed bank”, those weed seeds that are under the ground and just waiting for a bit of sun, oxygen and a little water to begin growing. If you use no-till, these seeds remain undisturbed for the most part, so the possibility of a less weedy garden is much better.
To begin, clear the garden area of any vegetable plant debris and weeds leftover from the previous season, as this may carry disease, weed seeds and insects. Then use compost, bark or other organic mulch, leaf litter or clean straw in a one to two inch layer. You can use newspaper or other type of biodegradable layer as well, either with or without the mulch layer.
Next mark your rows for your crops, and in the places where seed or a plant will go, remove the mulch down to the soil. Dig your hole or make a furrow and plant as normal.
Drip irrigation lines can be placed alongside the rows for ease of watering.
As the season progresses, weeds should be minimal and can be hand pulled.
The mulch layer helps not only keep weeds down, but also keeps the soil more moist and the roots of plants cooler, which helps with plant growth. Additionally, splash from soil is kept to a minimum, which can help keep diseases from infecting plants and fruit. Often less chemical control is necessary. Also the fruit and vegetables will be cleaner.
At the end of the season, dead vegetation is removed, but the mulch is left. This layer will decompose and be rich with earthworms and other beneficial microorganisms, which will greatly improve your soil. The next spring, you only add more mulch and begin the process again.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (http://bit.ly/12MaRlk) has some excellent information on this process.
For more detailed information on preparing your home garden, log on to: http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id128/id128.pdf. Or call the Extension Office and ask for the publication, “Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky.”
You can reach the Franklin County Cooperative Extension Service at 502-695-9035 by phone or email DL_CES_Franklin@Email.UKY.EDU.