Scout, Sow, and Grow: Tips for Starting Your Spring Garden

By Liz Petoniak / Photography By Cayla Zahoran | March 01, 2014
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Scout, Sow, Grow

Though spring has not quite sprung, there’s still prep work to be done in the garden for the warmer weather that lies ahead. This time of year, gardeners need to pay attention to the amount of water in the soil, says Susanna Meyer, Grow Pittsburgh’s director of agricultural production. “In March, we can still have snow and the ground can be really wet. If you walk in the garden or bring in a tiller too soon, the soil gets smashed down and destroys air pockets for roots. So, if you’re turning over the soil, wait until it’s drier.” She recommends testing by taking a handful of the soil and squeezing it lightly; if it falls apart, it’s OK to start. But, if the soil stays in a ball, it’s too wet to begin. Prior to growing season, Meyer also recommends completing an annual soil test to determine the levels of nutrients available for plants. Test results will yield suggestions for the necessary soil amendments. “PSU or UMass Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Lab are both great options and also screen for lead. Very wet soil can throw off the results, though,” she warns.

For beginners looking to create a garden, scouting a location starts now! Meyer says, “Sunlight is important for vegetable crops; you need to find a place with at least six hours of sunlight each day. Drainage is also very important. Waterlogged places are not ideal for food gardens. And, you should also consider convenience. It’s much easier to maintain a garden if you pass by it regularly.” Once you’ve found the perfect spot, if you’re planning to install a raised bed, start by building some sort of wood frame or rock wall around the site. Then, place cardboard down over the grass and start importing soil. Susanna recommends 70 percent topsoil and 30 percent compost.

Many seasoned gardeners will have already planned and purchased what they’d like to grow come spring. “Traditionally in this area, people planted peas on St. Patrick’s Day,” says Meyer. When your garden is ready to go, remember that hearty plants such as peas, spinach, carrots, and beets tend to grow best in early spring, when the weather is still a bit unpredictable.

Grow Pittsburgh, 6587 Hamilton Ave #2W, East Liberty. 412.362.4769.

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