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Dig This: Gardening the Special-Needs Garden

Wouldn’t it be hunky-dory if your garden had great deep soil and just the right amount of sun and shade all year around? If your garden is perfect, stop. If it isn’t, read on. I will start a series that will provide a few tips to help you deal with abominable soil, way too much shade, and with spring mud everywhere. Later, when it’s blistering hot, we can deal with that then.

First, let’s look at gardening in the muddy spring or fall garden:

  1. Choose vegetable varieties that tolerate growing in cool soil. Transplants for early spring or early fall planting can include onions, leeks, lettuces, greens and brassicas (such as broccoli, kale & cabbage). Beets, lettuces, carrots, peas, and spinach are examples of those that can be seeded directly and as early as February some years. Certain tomatoes (Oregon Spring, Stupice, Glacier, etc.) tolerate cool soil but not frost. These tomatoes won’t rot in wet cool soil, but they won’t grow either.
  2. Buy an inexpensive stick or soil thermometer to measure soil temperature. Daytime soil temperatures need to be above 63ºF. for several hours daily for root systems to grow well.
  3. Start your transplants inside, 4–8 weeks before transplanting them in the mud. It’s easy to seed indoors by putting potting soil in cut-off milk cartons, egg cartons, toilet paper tubes, etc. Or purchase transplants when you are ready for them. But remember, seeds need some heat, daylight and water to germinate.
  4. Direct seeding: If soil is too muddy, cover it with a thin layer of dry-ish potting soil or compost before seeding. Afterwards, cover the seeds you’ve placed on the soil with cloth, such as thin burlap, cheesecloth or any loosely woven, light-colored cloth, and mist or sprinkle lightly if needed. Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the cloth carefully.
  5. Plan ahead: Cover the area to be planted with a tarp or plastic sheet for a week or two so it’s dry enough to seed directly or transplant into it. If you are using your own compost, cover it also to dry it out enough to be workable; otherwise, buy a bag of potting soil or compost.
  6. If soil is still muddy, use a bulb planting tool, hand trowel or small shovel to dig out a small hole; replace the mud with dry compost or potting soil, then put your seedling into that. Don’t work muddy soil because it will squeeze out the air needed by roots for growth.
  7. After transplanting, the plants need about 4–5 days to establish a good enough root system to withstand a hard freeze below 30ºF. If a hard freeze is expected, cover plants with freeze cloth or other cover. Cloches can be made from one-gallon plastic milk or juice containers by cutting off the bottom and removing the cap. Put one over each plant. If they are translucent, they can be left for days. A cold cover can also be a newspaper tent, a paper bag shelter, a plastic row cover, and so forth.

Now, you have no excuses. Put on rain boots and hats and get out into your garden mud and plant your food. Your kids will love it.

Two AmeriCorps groups and volunteers, honoring Cesar Chavez Day. Photos by Melita Bena.

Dig This! is a regular biweekly column offering ecological wisdom and garden advice. If you have questions or would like Jim and Wayne to address a particular issue, you may contact them at the Teaching Garden by e-mail at teachinggarden@shastacollege.edu

Please click here, on aNewsCafe.com, to see dates and times for these upcoming workshops: “Wild Local Edible and Medicinal Plants,” “Transplanting Vegetable Seedlings,” “Watering/Moisture Management,” “Growing Tasty Tomatoes,” “Canning,” “Whole Foods/Chemical Free Cookery,” “Food Drying and Storage,” “Harvesting and Processing Seeds,” “Growing Great Garlic and Onions” and “Making Great Compost.”

For more, check out Teaching Garden website: www.shastacollege.edu/teachinggarden.

Wayne Kessler, is a local organic farmer, nurseryman and activist for local food security. He is the owner of Shambani Organics nursery in Manton with his wife Laurie. Wayne is a technical advisor to the Community Teaching Garden.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.