Behind the Fence

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The unusual warm weather this past couple of weeks tempted me to set those cute little tomato and basil plants in the ground. Past experience tells me “be patient!” And I am glad I was as it has turned a bit cool again. Even if frost didn’t get them, they would have just sat there and waited for the soil to warm. Now is the perfect time to give their beds a layer of compost and to prepare for the little darlings. Tomatoes are one area I do not use the Square Foot method. I usually put 4 plants in one 4’X4’ bed and they fill it up. I think I will try to control their size by doing more pruning. From what I have read, they usually produce as much if not more than letting the vines go rapid.

Raised beds have become more popular and much easier than a garden plot. In the past there has been concern of inorganic arsenic leaching from treated landscape timbers. My research finds that the process using arsenic (chromated copper arsenate) has not been used since 2003. However, I notice the warning is still present in gardening books and on web sites. You can read the  report at the Government EPA site. If you are still concerned; I noticed Lowe’s has resin raised bed kits priced from $40 to $100, depending on size.

Friends often asked me about the soil I use in my beds. Over the years I have used top soil amended with synthetic fertilizer, top soil amended with compost, soil left over from outdoor projects amended with compost, etc. I have found the crops due much better when compost is amended to the soil. But hands down the best soil I have found for raised beds is Mel’s Mix, as in Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Garden book. It is equal parts of compost, peat and coarse vermiculite. He recommends using bag compost from different sources to incorporate a variety of microbes. In addition to my homemade compost, I like to use bagged compost with manure, especially chicken manure. (I admit, I do get looks of disgust, especially from the younger folks, when I pull up to the loading area to pick up my manure.) Peat is available by compressed bale at most garden centers. Large bags of coarse vermiculite are not as available but I did find a 3 cubic bag at Phelps Farm Store on 4th street (in Paducah.) Mel’s Mix may seem a bit expensive initially but a one time process. After filling the beds, just add compost each time you replant a square.

Remember, practice patience! (That’s a note to me) The last frost date for this area (Zone 6) is around April 20. Planting summer crops before that time may find you gathering blankets, sheets and Grandma’s quilts to cover your plants when a frost or freeze is predicted. Most seeds for the summer garden require the soil temperature to be at least 50° before they will germinate. My experience with plants planted before May have not yielded an earlier harvest. They don’t do anything but sit there and wait for the heat (kind of like I do on a cold morning, waiting for the house to warm.)

No comments:

Post a Comment