NEW ULM - The spring season has gardeners excited about getting out in the sun and ready to plant the various vegetables they so desire for the coming summer.
But without careful planning and preparation, that garden that has such high hopes can turn sour if not for a few measures that can lead to a better harvest in the late summer months.
Brown County Master Gardeners Dean Wintheiser and Roxann Jelinek say that while the weather has been very warm this March, it's better to wait until April or May before getting out and planting seeds or plants directly into the soil.
The cold frame is roughly 4 foot by 3 foot. It was built to accommodate an old window. It can be built any size and can be built with a flat top.
By delaying the planting season, you eliminate the worry of a late snow or freeze that may kill off your potential vegetables.
"When it's this warm, it could turn around and we could have a foot of snow or it could freeze and you're really taking a chance," he said.
Wet soil can lead to problems when gardening, and Wintheiser suggests that grab a handful of soil to see if it sticks together when you let go of it. If it does, it's too wet to start your garden.
When to plant:
Warm season crops: plant after the danger of frost has passed. Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers need a longer growing season therefore transplants are necessary.
Winter and summer squash: direct seed after threat of frost.
Cucumbers, pumpkins and watermelon: direct seed.
Tomatoes transplants: after danger of frost.
Peppers transplants: after danger of frost.
Eggplants transplants: after danger of frost.
Swiss chard: direct seed after danger of frost.
Sweet corn: mid-May.
"One of the things that's important is when you're out there, you don't want to dig into the soil when it's wet," Wintheiser said.
"When you're tilling and walking in it, you can take a clump of dirt and if it crumbles apart, then it's good. It's best to wait as long as possible, because if you pack the soil, you're not going to get the air into the roots and you're probably not going to get as good of a crop."
Wintheiser recommends testing the soil every three years to get an accurate read on whether or not the soil is in good condition to grow what you may have in mind for that year. He said that Minnesota Valley Testing Labs in New Ulm is a good place for people to get their soil tested.
"If you take a soil sample from about six inches deep from a number of different places and mix it up. Minn. Valley doesn't need that much soil and they give you a bag and some paperwork to fill out and it doesn't cost that much."
Although gardening can be a lot of work, almost anyone can do it. The first step to gardening is to choose a location. You should choose a spot in your yard where you have six hours of direct sunlight or more.
Also, choose a spot where the soil drains well. If puddles are present after a rain, you know that this is not a well-draining area for a garden.
Once you've picked your location for the garden, you must then prepare the site. Jelinek and Wintheiser recommend that if you are starting your garden on a patch of lawn, you can build raised beds ore plant directly in the ground.
Wintheiser himself uses square foot gardening. In this method, he divides his garden into square-foot squares and plants a particular vegetable in each square.
"Mine is 12-feet long, and I divided every area into a one-foot square," he said. "It's more of an efficient use of space versus a standard garden. You can look at your packet of seeds, and if it says to space them two inches apart, you can do that in each little square and you can get probably 12 to 18 different plants in that square.
"You're also going to have to do a lot less weeding because once you plant the seeds, the sun's not going to reach the ground and the weeds aren't going to germinate," Wintheiser said. "With square-foot gardening, you're not going to walk on it so you're not going to pack it down. You can go on one side and reach half way over, then go to the other side and do the same thing."
He also uses a hot box, which is a wooden box in which there is a window at the top to allow sunlight in, but heat doesn't escape. He uses this to plant items such as radishes or lettuce. These are typically called cold weather crops and they tend to survive early planting more so than other vegetables.
Planting directly in the ground is the least expensive way but it does take a little more work. Raised beds are a good idea if you have poor soil. Either way, getting rid of the sod is a good idea and you should remove it so you won't have grass coming up in your garden.
Untreated cardboard or newspapers are a good way to smother the grass, leaving this on until the grass decomposes. It's best to do this in the fall so the grass has all winter to decompose and then you should spade or till the garden area.
The next step is to plan your garden. This is also a very crucial step so that you don't over-plant. Once you know the dimensions of your garden, it's good to sketch out a plan of what will be planted and where.
A general rule of thumb is to start with what you like to eat. While it may be fun to experiment growing new vegetables, the family favorites should come first, according to Jelinek and Wintheiser.
They recommend planting a salad garden. This is a garden that consists mainly of lettuces and other greens and it's one that doesn't require much space or maintenance and they tend to grow very quickly.
After planting, watering your seeds or plants is very important. Make sure to water the seedlings every day or every other day and as the plant matures, it will need about an inch of water every week (water more in sandy soils or during hot weather). If rain isn't sufficient, you'll need to water manually.
At this point, it's time to watch the garden grow. Some vegetables grow quickly such as radishes and salad greens and you can begin to harvest in 20-30 days. The maturity date is usually listed on the plant tag for transplants or the seed packet.
Like most things, gardening is a hobby that develops over time. As you gain more and more experience, you can try experimenting with different plants to get different results.
Additional information may be found on the University of Minnesota web site www.extension.umn.edu/Garden/. There, you can search for information on vegetables, weeds, wildlife, trees & shrubs, soils and composting, lawns flowers, fruit, houseplants, diseases, insects and landscaping.