Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Garden Preparation in Spring by C J Clawson

Photo CSU
In the Spring, a gardener’s fancy turns to planting beds, soil tests and amendments, and vegetable varieties.  No one wants to think about the pests and diseases that may come later – right now, life is a vision of a beautiful, bountiful vegetable garden.  But setting ourselves up for success includes giving consideration early in the season to the types of problems we might face later in the gardening year.  We must be pro active and vigilant from the very beginning of the season to protect our precious vegetable garden.  So . . . .

If you didn’t do a great job of garden clean up last fall, do a thorough job of it now: before you plant!  Viruses like tomato spotted wilt and fungi like early blight can overwinter on infected plant material and perennial weeds.  Insects like thrips and flea beetles can overwinter on infested plants too.  It is important to remove dead plant material completely from your garden area prior to planting this year in order to give your vegetable plants the best chance at a healthy life in 2013.  If you grew vegetables in pots last year, thoroughly clean and disinfect the pots before using them again.

Photo Ft. Collins Nursery
Stressed plants are targets for pests and disease – we can avoid problems by doing everything we can to grow healthy plants.  Pick up a soil test kit at the Jefferson County CSU Extension office and, for a slight cost, Colorado State University labs will recommend what you need to do to amend your soil correctly.  You can also order one online:     http://www.soiltestinglab.colostate.edu/

 Plan your irrigation system now.  Drips and soaker hoses are great for saving water but you can successfully hand water your garden.  Just try to keep moisture off the foliage and on the root zone of the plant!  Remember to check the soil for adequate moisture daily during periods of high heat.  Have fertilizer for edibles on hand and use according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Remember “a little more” isn’t necessarily a good thing: too much nitrogen encourages lush top grown in plants that is like salad buffet to some insects.

Real crop rotation is moving the tomato planting to the southern most 10 acres when the tomatoes were on the northern most 10 acres last year.  Most of us garden in much smaller areas so, while we can’t move our crops too far a distance from last year’s placement, it may help to move them as much as possible.  If your tomatoes had early blight last year, plant this year’s crop in a different location.  Also, think about rotating heavy versus light feeder varieties.  For instance, where you had swiss chard and spinach last year, plant beets this year.  Where you had tomatoes last year, plant potatoes this year.  And remember legumes can actually add nitrogen to the soil so relocate them to a new spot in your garden this year and your soil will benefit. 

When shopping for seeds and seedlings, look for disease resistant varieties.  Avoid varieties of vegetables that are known to attract undesirable insects – unless you are using something like radishes as a “trap crop” to keep the flea beetle off of your swiss chard!  Flea beetles are welcome to the foliage of the radish - since we don’t eat that portion of the plant, we’ll sacrifice the radish foliage to protect the swiss chard.  Inspect seedlings carefully, even tapping the plant out of the container to look for good root development and no evidence of insect activity.  Once your garden is planted, be watchful for insect and disease activity daily.   Early removal of a diseased plant may save the rest of your garden from infection. 

Stages of the Lady Beetle Photo UC Davis
All of us can probably recognize the adult of two of the most common beneficial insects in Colorado: the Lady Beetle and Green Lacewing.  But, can you recognize their larva!  The beneficials need to be protected at all stages of development.  Set aside some of your garden space for plants that will attract them:  catmint, moon carrot, basket of gold, and lavender.

Visit Colorado State University at their website:  www.ext.colostate.edu.  The “online publications” tab will take you to a vast resource of garden notes, fact sheets, and other research based information.   Use the resources available to you to achieve the best success during the growing season.  Happy, healthy vegetable gardening.