For many gardening enthusiasts, this time around late winter and early spring requires a lot of self-control. We've been cooped up for months, unable to get our hands in the dirt, while attempting to appease our earthly desires through gardening catalogs, flower shows and plenty of daydreaming. By now, we've just about had it with ideas, and it's time to put them into action. But for many, those moments are short-lived. Before we can garner any real momentum, Mother Nature reminds us that she's still in control by following up those warm weather samplings with cold snaps in quick succession.
With self-restraint made possible only through years of feeling the painful consequences of my impulsive desire to beat the system, I wait a little longer. So what's in store for my garden this season? With a new, five-acre property before me, I am giddy with anticipation. Our frost-free date is still over a month away, but there is plenty to do before then and even more beyond that.
For now, it's all about the site prep, as it should be for any gardener or weekend warrior who desires to create the best environment for long-term success. As long as the ground isn't frozen or saturated, it's the perfect time to cultivate and clean up. Preparation of the planting beds and future lawn area reigns supreme for this property over the next few weeks. Weeding, contouring and a generous layer of topsoil worked lightly into the earth should serve my future plants and seedbed well. For the beds waiting to receive plants, I'll top them off with several inches of mulch, as a green way to suppress weeds and prevent otherwise exposed soil from crusting over. Once my plants are in the ground, that same mulch will suppress certain plant diseases, keep roots cool and retain vital moisture in the soil.
As much as I enjoy everything to do with preparing the site and planting beds, the real fun begins in a couple weeks as I finally build the vegetable garden I've dreamed about for years. I have a large plot of land that basks in the light of full sun all day. It is just asking to have a big garden on this spot, and I shall oblige. It will be a glorious garden, full of deep and wide raised beds. If ever there were a "made for TV garden," this is it, since that is actually one of the main reasons for having such a garden here-- that and the fact that I love a big, beautiful vegetable garden.
No matter what you're growing, I think one of the best parts of spring comes when you put those new plants into the garden for the first time. Truth be told, I likely won't wait to plant my new beds until after the last risk of frost has passed (do as I say, not as I do). The seedlings I've started indoors are abundant and plentiful. Should my early crop of planted seedlings prove to be premature, my backup supply will come in handy. Seeds are cheap and it's always nice to have more than you need just in case or, even better, to share with others.
As you can see, I have plenty to do before the real gardening begins. Sharing future plans as well as past experiences between gardeners is part of the fun, and it's one more way we can all become better gardeners. I'll keep you posted on my progress this spring and beyond.
Joe Lamp'l, host and executive producer of "Growing a Greener World" on PBS, is an author and a paid spokesman for the Mulch and Soil Council. Send questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.