By Brianna van de Wijngaard —
It’s amazing how close spring can feel once the holidays are done and gone. There is a period of relief once the garden is put to bed in the fall, then relaxation as there seems no end in sight to the winter months. Then January 1 rolls around and all of a sudden, it isn’t two months until March… it’s EIGHT WEEKS! That’s it? Where did the time go?! Oh, that’s right: I spent it sleeping in, eating, and possibly subscribing to a Netflix trial account.
Ok, that’s fine. Everything is still under the snow anyway, insulated and protected from the harsh winter temperatures. There are a few garden “spring cleanings” and preparations we should plan to do when the snow does melt, however, so that our gardens are happy, healthy, and ready for seedlings. Before getting our hands dirty, see below for a list of reliable, non-GMO seed sources as you plan.
Mid-March: as temperatures warm, the microbial populations in your soil will start to wake up from a sluggish season, completing the partnership between the abiotic (rocks and their breakdown products) and environmental (wind, water, air) components of your soil. The living organisms in your soil are truly what bring it to life: the nutrients are always there, but it is living organisms that mobilize and transmute nutrients present in the environment into a soluble form for plants. Go, microbes!
As such, now is a good time to incorporate any debris you have left on your garden from the previous fall into your soil, if the ground has thawed: leaves, grass clippings, harvested plants, cover crops, and the like. It will have had some level of decomposition between fall and spring, and now that the microbes are becoming more active, three to four weeks before planting is the minimum amount of time they need to complete the breakdown of materials before direct seeding or planting out. If you cleared your garden beds in the fall, just add this step next year—it is beneficial nutrients for your soil, just as Nature intended!
This step has another purpose: turning the top layer of soil, when it is still somewhat wet in the early spring, allows it to dry much quicker. You can add an extra week to your planting schedule, if conditions remain favourable. Just make sure the soil isn’t sopping wet, to avoid compaction. Use a shovel and turn the top 4” to 6” of your garden patch.
Mid-April: if all goes well, and the snow is behind us, we can look at getting the soil ready. If you’ve never done a soil test in your garden, or are prepping a new plot, now is a great time. A soil test at home will not tell you what kinds of nutrients are present, but will tell you the texture of your soil. This is good for determining what kinds of drainage your soil has, what kinds of plants to plant, and how to amend the soil. Here’s what you will need:
A tall glass jar with lid
Enough soil to fill jar about 1/3, You want to collect soil from below the litter layer: pick out any organic matter and stones Water to fill jar 3⁄4 full 3-5 tbsp biodegradable dishwashing liquid A pencil, ruler, and good spot to leave the jar undisturbed for a few days
Once you have added the soil sample and water to your jar, add the soap: this will suspend the soil particulates in the water, allowing a better sedimentation to take place. Shake vigorously for 5-10 minutes. Set the jar down quickly to allow sedimentation in even layers. After 1-2 minutes: sand will settle out. After 1-2 hours: silt will settle out. After 1-2 days/weeks: clay will settle out.
Measure the entire soil depth, not including any floating organic matter. Then measure each layer individually. Divide each layer by the depth of the soil. For example:
total soil depth = 10 cm (100%)
sand layer = 6 cm (60%)
silt layer = 3.5 cm (35%)
clay layer = 0.5 cm (5%)
Now comes the fun part! Take a look at the soil texture triangle (see the above image): with your composite percentages, you can determine what kind of soil you have.
Find 60 on the side for sand (bottom line of the triangle) Follow that axis until it lines with your silt percentage (35) Do the same for clay (5)
The spot where the three lines cross is the soil texture. In this example, the soil texture classification is sandy loam.
Knowing the texture of the soil you are working with, if you don’t already, is a great first step as a gardener in the spring. Happy Planting!
Brianna is a certified organic gardener from Victoria, BC, living in Williams Lake. She operates Puddle Produce Urban Farms, growing vegetables in city backyards and lots: www.puddleproduce.ca
This is a list of seed suppliers that have made the Safe Seed (ie: no GMO) pledge – Canadian suppliers are near the bottom: councilforresponsiblegenetics.org
But research the seed company before you buy: the seeds may not be GMO, but could still come from questionable sources. Purchasing seed direct from seed farms who support non-GMO seed saving and exchange, such as those listed below, are your safest bet:
2750 30 Ave. N.E. Salmon Arm, British Columbia VIE 3L2 Tel: 250-804-0122 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.stellarseeds.com
High Mowing Organic Seeds
76 Quarry Rd. Wolcott, Vermont 05680 Phone: 802-472-6174
6473Hwy1,RR3 Granville Ferry, Nova Scotia B0S 1K0 Phone: (902) 665-4905
Seed Savers Exchange
3094 North Winn Rd. Decorah, Iowa 52101 Phone: (563) 382-5990
Salt Spring Seeds
PO Box 444, Ganges Salt Spring Island, British Columbia V8K 2W1 Tel: 250-537-5269 www.saltspringseeds.com