These instructions will vary a bit by month, depending on your zone (see below for links to zone specific posts from great garden/homestead bloggers). Add a few weeks to this timeline if you live in a zone lower than five; subtract a few weeks in you live in a zone above five. If you garden with raised beds, either framed or swaled (permaculture), here are some tasks to be engaging in to prepare for the spring garden.
Raised Garden Beds from the Beginning
If you’re new to gardening, then please remember this refrain – Aim small, Miss small. If you’re starting this year with one raised bed, then concentrate on making that one the best it can be before you add more. Don’t overwhelm yourself thinking that you have to grow everything right away. Raised beds can be added at any point during the year as long as the soil is workable.
If you’re designing a garden from scratch, write/sketch out a plan for your raised garden beds. I strongly recommend you investigate lasagna gardening, Back to Eden methods and/or permaculture principles. Sometimes we think of gardeners as great growers of plants but, really, what a quality gardeners is actively growing is rich soil. Flowers, veggies, herbs, and even orchards will grow themselves if the soil in which they grow has a good foundation.
The best way to educate yourself on new methods? Read, read, read – find online support groups, go to classes, talk to your gardening neighbors and experiment. YouTube is a great resource these days for the visual learners and the library is your best friend when it comes to devouring print material because you can read a wide variety of books without having to buy first. You can vet raised bed gardening books to see if they’re worth purchasing.
Don’t ever be fenced in by what you read, though. Experiment and try to grow the foods you know you’ll eat. And a few you’ve never even tasted! Be sure to keep track of all your plans and planting schedules in a quality garden notebook. May I suggest this one, from our affiliate, Schneider Peeps – The Gardening Notebook.
Raised Garden Beds: Tasks for Spring
I’m in zone 5 so remember to adjust the timing for your own zone. The best book I’ve found for practical gardening month by month is the Week by Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook, by Ron and Jennifer Kujawski. Also very helpful is Four Season Harvest, by Eliot Coleman.
- Place mail orders – asparagus and strawberry crowns, seeds, spring planted bulbs
- Clean and inventory all equipment – shovels, clippers, gloves, seed starting supplies
- Get out your graph paper and start sketching plans for the herb garden
- Sow seeds indoors for flowers and bedding plants
- Consider sprouting or growing micro-greens indoors for fresh greens in the winter
- Knock off snow build up on hedges, conifers and hoop-houses if getting really heavy
- Inventory stored food, remove spoiled items and decide what to grow more or less of next year
- Insulate cold frames against severe extended cold
- Read a book on a garden topic you’ve never studied before – maybe hydroponics?
- If it’s not frozen, start turning your compost
- From now to March think about pruning your grape vines – it needs to be cold so they don’t bleed to death
- Build or buy new cold frames
- Consider starting herbs for potted plants indoors – cilantro, dill, oregano and any medicinal ones you’ll need
- Can start perennial and annual flowers indoors if you haven’t already – try creating a floral habitat for bees
- Also onions, leeks, Brassicas, leaf lettuce, celery, spinach and other greens can be planted indoors from seed
- Watch for damping off on all seedlings
~ Would you like a natural control for damping off? ~
Each tray you plant, sprinkle a little ground cinnamon on the surface of the soil. Cinnamon is a natural anti-fungal. There are others like clove and garlic but even these are a bit strong and may burn your seedlings as they emerge. If you’re out of cinnamon, use turmeric which should still be mild enough on your baby plants but strong enough to deal with fungus and bacteria. You don’t need much for it to be effective – too much can burn tender seedlings.
Also make sure you have adequate air circulation after seedling emergence.
- Tune up power equipment
- Start Brassicas, lettuce, celery if you didn’t in February for transplant into early spring garden – be sure to be mindful of shade
- Plant peas, carrots, parsnip, lettuce, green onion and spinach outdoors if soil is workable
- Start eggplant, herbs and peppers indoors for transplanting – eggplant and peppers can be started next month, too
- Try to plant with seed saving in mind – which seeds would you like to save this year?
- Begin to uncover garlic and strawberry beds from their fall mulch of straw or leaves if they’re showing signs of growth
- Plant asparagus and add compost to existing plants
- Prepare your soil for spring by adding compost, ash and/or digging in fall planted cover crops as soon as soil is workable
- Begin hardening off early spring transplants and plant when soil workable – you may still need freeze protection
- Start pruning in the orchard is the hard freezes look to be over – mulch your tree carefully to prepare for coming warmer temps
~ How do I know if my soil is workable? ~
These methods are highly scientific, so pay attention:
If you try to dig in it and it’s frozen, it’s not workable.
Step into your dirt; if big clods of wet mud come up with your boot, your soil is too wet.
Grab a handful of your garden soil and squeeze it; if you open your hand and your dirt is still in a solid clump, it’s too wet. If it crumbles, you’re good to go.
- If soil is workable, direct sow carrot, beet, leaf lettuce, spinach, green onion, mustard
- If you’re including container gardening in your plans, clear the deck and prepare your soils for spring crops
- If leaf lettuce, onion, Brassicas and leeks were started indoors earlier, begin to harden off for planting outdoors
- Build raised beds and fill with soil mix of choice – remember to include lots of compost, animal dung and mulch
- Start tomatoes and basil indoors
- Plant potatoes
- Divide rhubarb crowns if crowded
- Start weeding if you haven’t employed deep mulch methods
~ A word on freeze vs. frost ~
A light frost will leave frozen dew on your plants; a hard freeze will leave them dead (or mostly dead).
You may still need some frost/freeze protection even on hardy crops if temps go really low again or stay below freezing for awhile. You can use something as fancy as Agribon or as simple as an inverted milk jug for protection. Other ideas include Wall-o-water, blanket, clay pot, cloche, Mason jar, bucket.
Just another note on the Gardening Notebook – the notebook is really so useful for the garden that several other bloggers are writing about it right now as they prepare their own gardens and help their readers prep theirs. We’re all covering a different growing zone so, if you’re not in zone 5 (as I am), your zone will be covered by one of the articles below. I’m learning new things reading these, even though they’re not technically in my zone and I encourage you to read them – you know, when you get in from laying down compost and pruning your grape vines.
Learning and Yearning in Pennsylvania
SchneiderPeeps in Texas
To help you with your raised garden beds adventures, you may needs these products:
Stay tuned in a few months for Raised Garden Beds: What do to for Summer