Organic Vegetable Gardening in An Urban Setting

Garden Checklist for March

It's March and after a warm day or two making the snow disappear we all want to get out into our  gardens and get things growing. Depending upon where you live this is not always a good idea. That is not to say that there are not things we can be doing. Just remember that working the soil too early while it is still wet is going to compact your garden. This will remove air pockets in the soil as well as encase the roots of your perennials in cement like earth. This is when you should be refining your Garden Design.

Things for you to do include:

 

  • Turn your compost. If it has been too frozen to deal with up till now then this is a good time to get started.
  • Look for weeds. Now is the time to go after them.while the soil is moist and your crops are yet to go into the ground. If you didn't plant it and it is not in a perennial bed it is probably a weed.
  • Prepare your beds with a new top dressing of compost or manure. I prefer sheep manure as sheep have enzymes in their stomachs which kill all the plant seeds they consume. This helps ensure that you are not introducing new weeds from food that was eaten as may happen with cow or horse manure. Chicken manure works well but carries a long lasting and highly unpleasant odor which may be fine in the back 40 but is certainly not desirable in an urban or container garden.
  • Now is the time to prune your fruit trees and any fruiting canes that you didn't do last fall. As most fruiting canes such as raspberries and blackberries only produce on new growth I have heard or people cutting them back completely this time of year using a lawn mower though I would not recommend this practice if your canes are of the ever bearing type.
  • This is also the time to apply a dormant spray kit to those fruit trees. This must be done before the buds on your trees open and can be done in the cold weather even with risk of light frost in the night.
  • Black spot and powdery mildew can be sprayed for now. You can use  lime sulfur sprays which are considered organic; but I prefer to use a mixture of 1 teaspoon of baking soda per liter of water that has been left to stand overnight to help release some of the chemicals, like fluoride, that are added to our city water.  It is always a good idea to let stand city water before using it on any plant inside or out.
  • As the ground warms up remove any volunteer potatoes from last season. They may harbor blight.
  • Bury the stems of any over wintering brassicas to control aphid and white fly populations.
  • This is a good time to set out those slug traps and bait them with a little beer before they become a problem for your new transplants.
  • Remove burlap from your hedges and trees to check for winter damage from snow loads. Cut or prune right away before active growth takes place. Plant but do not prune your grapes at this time. Spring pruned grapes will usually die once the sap starts running.
  • Mulch your perennials.
  • Check out your stored bulbs, tubers, and corms; tossing out any that have become soft over the winter. Your potatoes should be chitted or forced at this time by placing them in a bright window away from too much heat. This will develop the eyes into the stalks you need for planting as soon as the ground is warmed up. You will be able to ensure that you get at least two crops this way.
  • This is the time to do the boring maintenance work you put off last fall. Repair you gardening tools and replace or sharpen your bladed tools. Check your greenhouse or cold frame for damage and fix it as your transplants will be needing this space soon.Fix your trellises and tomatoe or fruit cages.
  • Strawberry runners and alpine strawberry seeds can be planted now provided the ground has thawed and if you have covered last years plants with mulch remove it no so as to check your plants for damage. After all they will be fruiting in a couple of months. Remember; strawberries work wonderfully in hanging baskets.
  • Remove any dead asparagus shoots. If you did not plant your asparagus last fall it is still not too late to get it in but I recommend planting only the all male plants if you hope to get anything useful from them this year. Plant the male/female plants in the late fall or early winter depending upon where you live. Asparagus is a perennial.
  • If you did not divide your rhubarb last fall then you can take a chance on doing it now though my recommendation is to wait till the end of the season. Rhubarb divided early in the season has a tendency to bolt. Cover your rhubarb with glass jars to get the stems growing earlier in the season and increasing your yield.
  • If you didn't plant your garlic and onions last year you can still get them growing now. Start your onion sets in small containers for later transplant as soon as the frost has left your ground. Garlic will germinate faster if you place it in your fridge for a week or two first to trick it into thinking it has over wintered out of doors.
  • There are now enough daylight hours to start your container kitchen herb garden. Perennial herbs such as chives, mint, oregano, thyme, and others can be divided now and given to friends or saved for the plant exchanges which will be coming up by Mother's day in and around your neighbourhood.
  • You can safely fertilize your houseplants now. Their dormancy has probably broken and they are ready for active growth. This means that it is also time to divide them or to start rooting cuttings. If necessary now would be the time to re-pot them as well.
  • Get a good start on your veggies by starting your cold weather crops like carrots, beets, peas, swiss chard, leeks, spinach, and lettuce crops such as arugula. These can go outside to be hardened in your cold frame or greenhouse as they can be planted a week or two before your last frost date.
  • If you haven't done it yet order your warm weather seeds. These are things like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and cucumbers. They cannot be planted till all danger of frost is behind you.

Whew... Seems like a long list but the season is just getting under way and there is lots to do. Not to worry though as the lists become shorter as the days get warmer.

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