by Marina Escobar
As a child growing up in the South, I never experienced winters like we have in Connecticut. My mother’s garden always seemed full of tomatoes despite the weather, and although I have grown to love the diverse climate and seasons of New England, I’m longing to start my summer garden. This month brings the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Think of it like this – as every day gets a tiny bit longer, you are getting more time in the day to prepare for your garden, if only by a few seconds. This month’s focus is figuring out where our new plants and seedlings will go, amending our garden soil, and assessing our garden tools.
Seeds to Sow
This is the time to continue putting to work those journal sketches and end-of-year entries and to decide what seeds you still need to order. It’s easy to over-order, believe me, I know, so, I organize all my seed packets in a plastic container for easy viewing of labels, categories, and varieties. My sketches are essential in helping me visualize the necessary space for large (tomatoes), medium (peppers), and small (lettuce) plants keeping overcrowding to a minimum, so my plants thrive.
Let’s talk about early planting.
First, it’s essential to identify your growth zone’s last frost date. In Connecticut, zones range from 5b in the mid-state to 7a in the coastal areas. I’m in zone 6b and my estimated last frost date is the end of April, which means I can start indoor sowing (planting) in March. To find your freeze/frost and planting zone dates, use the spring garden calculator at davesgarden.com to quickly determine when to start what or you can use any Plant Zone online source in which you plug in your zip code. Now is the time I can start sowing cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, and peppers indoors, as some plants require 10-12 weeks of growth before I can transplant them into my garden.
Sowing seeds indoors can be a fun way to start the garden season, especially if you have small kids who enjoy watching seeds sprout over time. If this is your first-time sowing seeds early, your best chance for success may be to not plant more than you can handle. It can be quite challenging. It takes a lot of work, time, and effort to ensure your seeds have continuous and optimal conditions to stay alive and thrive indoors. You will need to provide clean seed containers, seed starting soil, water, grow lights, and heat for the seed to do its thing, which is to wake up and take root. If you’re overwhelmed and this sounds complicated, you’re not alone. Wait until you can direct sow your seeds in your garden. That’s my plan this season. I’ve had my best success and most abundant harvests through direct sowing. There’s a lot to consider here but don’t fret, start with what you love to eat and study up on when to plant.
The Dirt on Soil Testing
It’s a good idea but it’s easy to forget. If your soil has thawed, consider a soil test. This takes the guesswork out of what your soil lacks. Spring and Fall are the best time to test so you can make any adjustments before planting. It’s also time to put that compost pile to use by adding a layer to your beds to renew them. In Connecticut, you can find everything you need to know about soil testing at
Click the Soil Testing tab, download the Home Grounds/Lawn submission form and follow the easy instructions on how to collect your soil.
Once you collect your garden sample, mail the completed submission, sample, and $12 payment. The turnaround time for your results is 7-10 days according to the Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab specialist. Your soil will be tested for macronutrients and micronutrients – key factors in growing healthy plants. We’re talking calcium, magnesium, lead, phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen, to name a few. If you’re not sure what all this means, don’t worry, your results will include recommendations for you to amend your soil if it lacks or exceeds in certain nutrients.
Tools of the Trade
I cannot wait to use my wheelbarrow birthday gift for hauling compost, soil, mulch, and plants. You don’t need a lot of tools for gardening, but a few good pieces can make gardening easier. It’s worthwhile to invest in quality tools such as a large shovel, a good rake, and hand tools.
Some of my tools include:
• dibber – seed and bulb planting
• Hori-Hori knife – deep weeding, digging
• pruner, shear, snips
• quality gloves
• garden knee pad
• garden journal
This is the time to sharpen, clean, organize and make any necessary repairs to your garden tools because clean and sharp tools just work better. I admit I have put away dirty tools only to regret it when they didn’t work well later. Plus, I’m sure you would rather spend time tending to your plants and not your tools. Be sure to wash and wipe down tools after each use. Hose down any of the larger tools if they’re crusted with muck and mud. Before storing, wipe down metal blades and moving parts with a thin layer of lubricants such as WD-40 or any other light machine oil to keep them from rusting and wipe wooden handles with linseed oil. Sharpening dull blades is a bit more complicated, but there are plenty of guides on “how-to sharpen garden tools” available online. Taking care of your quality tools and storing them properly is a good habit. One that I have adopted and has kept me from wasting energy searching for my pruners.
Let’s wrap up:
• Get started if you’re sowing seeds inside
• Don’t forget to test your soil – healthy soil grows healthy plants
• Assess your tool bag – keep tools cleaned, sharpened, and in their place
Next month’s focus is
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