Monday, February 28, 2011

It's almost spring!

Wow it is really coming, spring that is.  Today the temperatures will be in the sixties.  I started some seeds outside already for spinach and spring onion.  The red of Florence type, sounds good.  I hope they work out.  The sowing of seeds that I have done shows the importance of planning ahead.  I knew exactly where these seeds should go so that they won't interfere with other plants that are sown later.  I will also sow some spinach in about ten days to have two crops (hopefully) before the heat gets to it.

Here are a few tips for this time of year.  If you need compost the local county governments in most places (including Arlington County and Fairfax county) have free mulch and composted leaves or leaf mulch .  You have to pick it up yourself, but gather a bunch of bags and perhaps a friend with a truck and go for it.  Your garden will thank you and you will save a great deal of money.  The mulch and compost is great for the garden.  the compost or leaf mulch helps aerate the soil and the mulch will keep down weeds once the seedlings get going.  Another tip is turn your soil now to let it heat up a bit for more plantings. This is also a good time to see to your tools and clean them off or sharpen them for spring.   

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Back to Basics: Soil

So you have your plan for the planting, the seeds are ordered, maybe they have arrived and are just waiting for the right weather to plant.  Maybe you already ordered some new roses or shrubs for an ornamental hedge.  It is all so very exciting.  But wait aren't you forgetting something?  Like the basics, as in what are you planting everything IN.  Yes, don't forget the soil.  Preparing the soil before planting is one of the most important things you can do to ensure a good growing season for any type of plant, annual or perennial, vegetable or ornamental. 

A good place to start is with a soil test.  You can get a soil test kit from any Fairfax County  library.  The test will tell you if you need more garden lime (to de-acidify) or acid (to acidify).  In this area chances are that you will have acidic soil and need to use garden lime, also known as hydrated lime.  The soil test will also tell you any nutrients that are missing, such as calcium.   But if you don't get around to doing a test of your existing soil you might try raised beds.  They are a great way to control the soil content and they have other advantages such as they drain better, the soil warms up faster and it is easier to keep down weeds.  A raised bed can be just lots of compost, leaves, composted manure and more leaves piled up or it can be layered in a enclosed bed made of wood or bricks or some thing to hold the soil in.  Either way it is easier to incorporate more compost and other amendments and you do not need a tiller.  You plant the seeds or plants directly in to the raised bed.  Of course if you are used to tilling every spring for vegetables and occasionally for new beds that works too.  But I always go for the easy way!  There is something called lasagna gardening that uses lots of layers including a great deal of peat moss.   The general idea is sounds, but peat moss is not a renewable resource, plus it gets expensive.  Replace peat moss in raised beds with compost, your own if possible.  Coconut fiber, coir, is supposed to work as well as peat moss but I have not personally tried it.  When I make my own potting soil I'll give it a try.  I will report back then! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Delayed Gratification

Gardeners know all about delayed gratification.  In this world where we can find out instantly what a friend is doing at any given moment by following them on Twitter or Facebook, gardening is a welcome relief.  There is no choice but to follow the seasons.  If you want something to grow you have to plant it at the correct time.  If you want spring bulbs, they must be planted in the fall.  That is why I urge you to plan the garden.  There is garden planning software out there, but I am old fashioned in that I like to use graph paper, a pencil and a ruler to plan each season's vegetables and flowers,  and seperate pages for the perennial sections.  Of course one can only do so much each year, so this year I am focusing on the vegetable garden, a cut flower garden and one perennial bed.  Next year perhaps I can focus on the rose patch and extending a small cottage garden in part shade. 

If you do want to go the software route, I have used the Gardener's Supply Kitchen Garden Planner (<,default,pg.html>) which is fairly easy to use.  Of course they would probably like you to buy something from them.  I have bought one or two things from them but they are a bit pricey.  At least for my budget.  I have gotten most of my tools from yard sales and from Freecycle.  Both are also great sources for outdoor furniture.  Also checkout Craig's List.

Now get planning!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My First Post!

Thanks for reading my blog.  I will be talking about gardening in and around Northern Virginia.  Specifically in the Falls Church-Arlington area, but also in the general region including D.C. and Maryland.  While there are micro-climates everywhere (including in my garden and probably yours too), we can make some generalizations about this area; its soil, weather, and gardening resources. We are in frost zone 7a and our soil tends to be acidic with lots of clay.  There are many resources in this area, including the local cooperative extension offices that provide great help for gardeners and local businesses that provide sources for everything from seed to landscaping expertise. 

I hope you have started ordering seeds for spring planting!  But if you have not, don't worry too much because seed sellers all seem to have websites.  The only reason to order earlier is too make sure popular or limited items are still available.  I really enjoy ordering seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (, where everything is heirloom.  Last year I had great success with all of their seeds, in spite of rotten soil and hot dry conditions.  I believe they have run out of their printed catalog already, but if you have a chance to order it next year it is beautiful and very inspirational.  Of course you will want to buy a small farm after you read it but curb yourself!  Remember you will have to find room for everything and find people to eat the vegetables!  Besides veggies they also sell flower seeds.  This year I have also ordered from Territorial Seed Company (, which I have heard good things about.  Also ordered from some old standbys such as Park Seeds and Burpees.  I have purchased seed packets from Merriefield Garden Center as well, some from a company in Italy called Franchi.  I am looking forward to seeing how that works out.  This is the first year I have actually planned ahead with a list of what I like, think will grow and amounts that I can handle. Also, this is the first year I am actually using a plan/map of what goes where when.  It gets complicated when you try to incorporate crop rotation, companion planting and planting by the phases of the moon!  I don't sweat it though, last year I had a few things work out and I just dug up (or I should say had my dad dig up) a part of the yard where there wasn't much grass and threw in some lime, compost and manure and hoped for the best. (Okay, maybe I did a bit more than that but not much more!)  Gardening can be approached in a very scientific way, or an artistic way; I am trying for a bit of both. 

Happy gardening!

(well at this time of year, happy dreaming about gardening!)