Spring Vegetable Planning

We've turned the calendar over to March, which automatically causes me to start thinking about our vegetable garden. In our garden, we grow our veggies in a mix of raised beds and in the ground. I have had decent success both ways, but if I had to choose which I thought performed better...I think I would say our raised beds. I assume this has something to do with the warmer soil temperatures. Our soil in our yard is a very rich soil that we can dig into easily, drains well and is always crawling with worms. So, I think the biggest difference must be the soil temperature. I bought a soil thermometer this year, and I plan on running some experiments between the soils in the ground and in the beds to test my theory!

When considering whether to grow in your native soil or in raised beds, it's important to know about your soil's health. If you are unfamiliar with the history of your garden, or if some of the other plants in your landscape are not fairing well, you might consider having your soil tested by area labs to determine the make up of your soil and see if it needs any amendments. But there are also some simple questions to ask yourself. Does that area of your property drain well after a heavy rain? Is it easy to dig, or is it rock hard? Does your soil look like compacted clay or too sandy or gritty? These answers in combination with a soil test, will help you determine if it's a suitable area for growing in the native soil.

If you decide you need to build raised beds, they can be any depth and length you choose. From as little as 4 inches deep up to 18 inches deep. The deeper the beds, the more costly it can be to fill them with soil. If you have decent soil, you might consider a raised bed that is only 4 to 6 inches deep. If you would like easier access to your vegetables, or have poor soil, build a deeper bed that allows for your vegetable roots to grow. Do keep in mind that you do not want your beds to be so wide that you are unable to reach the middle of them for planting and harvesting. Building beds that are 48 inches wide is a common width. A couple advantages to raised beds is that they can provide better drainage for those whose native soil doesn't drain well. The soil also warms earlier than garden beds in the ground. The disadvantage is that they can be costly to build and fill, and they may drain a little too well, which requires you to be more vigilant about watering in the peak of summer.

Early spring is a great time of year to begin thinking about what you would like to grow in your vegetable garden. There are many fantastic publications on growing vegetables in the Pacific Northwest to help you get started. The two I refer to most often are both free PDF publications from local university extensions. Oregon State University Extension offers "Growing Your Own" and Washington State University Extension offers "Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington." Both of these have fantastic information for the beginning gardener and for the more advanced gardener. Another source I use frequently is WSU Extension's Home Garden Fact Sheets. Here you will find a variety of Fact Sheets on specific crops. They detail not only planting instructions, but common diseases and pests, harvesting tips, as well as end uses for a given crop. Look through these and choose vegetables that you know you like to eat. It is silly to waste space growing something no one in your family enjoys. Each year, try a new variety or a new vegetable entirely. You might find something new to add to your dinner table.

Once you know what you want to grow, it's time to map it out. There are a variety of ways to go about doing this. You can simply measure your space and draw it out on graph paper following plant spacing listed in the publications above or on your seed packets, or you can use an online garden planner to help you with this. There are some free garden planner sites, as well as paid ones. Gardener's Supply Company has a free Kitchen Garden Planner that allows you to use one of their pre-planned gardens or design your own. Their program utilizes the square foot gardening techniques made famous by Mel Bartholomew. Another option is the Grow Veg garden planner that has a small annual fee. There are many other online options as well, these are just two choices.

Once you have made it through these planning stages, you are ready to plant! It's an exciting time of year for gardeners. What do you hope to grow in your garden this year?

Happy Gardening,