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Spring clean-up time! Week 1

By: sullivanweather , 11:33 PM GMT on March 26, 2013

Spring is here, barely, and those of us lucky enough to not have snow cover can finally get out into the garden and commence spring cleaning. If your garden is like mine you're likely facing the following; leaves, lot and lots of leaves, sticks, branches, last year's dead plants, last year's plant supports still in ground, winter weeds and areas of still frozen dirt. It can all seem overwhelming but one must start somewhere and if done in an organized manner, spring clean can go smoothly.

What I try to accomplish first is removal of last year's plant supports. I typically run across a few stakes or cages still frozen into the ground but most of them 'phslurk' right out. Stack all stakes and cages in neat piles outside the garden to keep them easy to access once your plants are growing and it's time to use them. Ridding the garden of obstacles makes the next step go much smoother. This next step is giving the garden a good raking to get rid of all the leaves and branchlets that blew in over the cold season. There are options for this leaf litter other than throwing them into the woods or bagging it up for haul away. This leaf litter will typically break down quickly in the spring when composed, so most of what falls into my garden finds its way into the compost heap. But I do find other uses for this leaf litter. Beds reserved for warm season crops which are not planted with spring crops I typically cover with this leaf litter. During the 4-7 weeks of being covered by the leaf litter there's typically a colony of earthworms which move in under the pile of leaf litter, leaving a coating of castings on the top layer of soil. About 3-5 days before I plant those beds I remove the leaf litter to allow the soil to warm more efficiently and mix the castings into the top two inches of soil. The leftover left litter is then added to the compost heap.

Now that the beds are cleaned and hopefully rid of all supports, it is now ready to prep the cool season beds for planting. I will post a follow up blog on garden preparation (for those starting from scratch) but what follows here is mainly for established beds. First thing to figure out is whether or not your cool season crop has a taproot or not. For the most part, a cool season crop with a taproot will typically not need to have the soil turned. The thawing ground provides all the space in the soil these plants need and as it rains natural micro drainage paths within the soil, which left undisturbed from not turning the bed, provides channels for root hairs of the plant to grab all the necessary nutrients the plant needs. Just feed these crops as prescribed by your choice of plant food/fertilizer and these beds will produce a healthy harvest. Other crops which do need to have the soil turned, this is the best time to amend the soil. Typically I like to add a mix of rich organic matter from my own compost and composted cow manure, a new bag of top soil and a combination of iron-tone and garden-tone, Espoma products. These 'tone' products provide organic micro-nutrients to the soil which are essential to promote strong root growth, vigorous stem and foliage growth and gives the plant the ability to fend off disease. More on cool season crops will follow in a blog dedicated to them.

Along with a series of blogs on some of the basics of gardening this blog will also document the progress of my garden this season. Therefore I will have plenty of pictures to illustrate these changes.
Here's what I'm looking at this spring...

Here's the backyard. The garden is in the background on the left side of the photo. There's still plenty of snow in the shady areas but where the sun shines the ground is mostly bare. The tree down is courtesy of Sandy.

Close up shot of the downed tree from Sandy. As you can see, the top of the tree came down pretty close to the garden fence.

Entrance to the garden looking in. There's quite a mess in there.

This is the center bed with the best soil in the garden. Typically, this is where I grow lettuce during the cool season. After mid-June the lettuce is usually done and this bed slowly fills in with warm season crops started indoors. I do plan on making some layout changes to this area of the garden this week as I will be digging a new path for the drainage channel.

An expanded image showing the center bed (left side) and the path and drainage ditch which runs alongside it. The bed along the right side of the path/drainage ditch are strawberries. This area will be expanded this spring as I will be moving the outer fence out about 6-7 feet from where it is now. This is the area of the garden likely to see the biggest change in layout this year as that drainage ditch will no longer run along the path, the path will be changed and new terraced beds created within the center bed.

Top of the drainage ditch looking toward the front of the garden. Wind has blown planting containers into the ditch and it is clogged down below, so it's holding its water. Instead of cutting left it will soon be re-excavated, bisect the center bed and empty into the bottom part of the garden where I plan on growing pumpkins.

About two-dozen strawberry plants I rooted at the end of last summer. These plants will be planted in the expanded strawberry bed.

The part of the drainage ditch which 'cuts to the left.' This is where the ditch is clogged as the freeze/thaw cycle of the soil has expanded and pushed the rock wall into the ditch. This is also the part of the drainage ditch which will be eliminated.

This view is facing left after walking into the garden. The center bed is now on the right side of the image with last year's tomato bed (and the trellis I built for them) on the left side of the path. This is also a section of the garden I'm planning radical changes to as the drainage ditch will now cut through here. Final plans for this section are still not 100% but I will make the best use of the space somehow. The fence post on the far left side of the photo has a length of fence attached to it which extends to the back of the garden along which I grew snow/snap peas. This year that fence will be coming out and added to the outside fence to extend the strawberry bed.

Green shoots! The first ones up in the garden. These are chives.

The back three beds of the garden. The drainage ditch is in the immediate foreground. Thus far I'm not planning on any major changes to these beds this year.

This is the herb garden and it is a mess. Hopefully, the mint and lavender will be up in short order. By early May an assortment of herbs will be added to fill in the gaps.

This is the row along one of the backsides of the garden. On the left side of the path is the center bed (looking from the back of the garden toward the front). Last year winter squash was grown in this section.

Collapsed section of the drainage ditch wall.

Bottom of the garden where the drainage ditch will empty into. Usually I plant peas and spring mix in this section of the garden in the spring and pumpkins in the summer. Since there will be construction occurring in this section of the garden this spring I may lose the cool season crop from this part of the garden.

Another view of the tomato bed from the pumpkins section. This is one big mess right now.

The weather station!


Day 1

Center bed now bisected by the new drainage ditch. I do believe that I will be changing the structure of this bed now too.


View looking up the garden. Yesterday this was a jumble of cages, stakes and a length of fencing. All removed now to open this space up. The drainage ditch will empty into this part of the garden and is where I will plant pumpkins later in the year.


A better view of the new section of drainage ditch I dug this afternoon. New paths and beds are in order.


Many of the rocks which made last year's bedding borders. These will soon be re-stacked to make new beds.


Top half of the new ditch bisecting the center bed. I guess it will no longer be the center bed after today.


Entire length of new ditch from near-ground level.


Looking down the garden from the top of the old section of ditch. Compare with similar image posted yesterday.


View from the top of the new ditch looking down the garden.

_________________________________________________ ___

Day 4

Here's the outside of the garden where it will soon be extended. Still quite messy out here.


Looking in the garden from the front gate. Lots of progress being made thus far.


A closer look at the new paths and beds where last year's tomato plants were. The bed in the foreground still needs to be expanded slightly and terraced.


View of new beds/paths and ditch from a head-on angle. The new bed on the left is complete and sowed with spinach seeds. The bed on the right side needs to be expanded (rock wall on right side of the bed will be removed to extend the bed horizontally) and the rock wall of the center bed will also be taken down to combine both beds, which will then be terraced.


Close up view of the new spinach bed.


Close up ground-level view of one baby spinach hill.


View of spinach bed from the topside of the garden.


My farm dog asking if she can help dig holes.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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12. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
5:08 AM GMT on April 04, 2013
sullivanweather has created a new entry.
11. sullivanweather
5:15 AM GMT on April 03, 2013

We have clay soil up here so it might as well be one large slab of bedrock...lol

I simply solved that problem by having a dump truck of soil delivered. It cost $275 but it was well worth it. I mixed a 4" layer of new soil into the top 4" of the the slab then added a 3-5" layer atop everything. Occasionally I'll add compost and such but if I had to rely on the dirt native to this area things certainly wouldn't be looking the way they do. By the end of the first year the produce the garden produces more than pays for the soil.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
10. originalLT
5:07 AM GMT on April 03, 2013
Hi Sully, i see in your post #5, that stones are your friends! I wish I felt the same-- as I alluded to in my post #1, they give me a "pain"! But I see how you are handling them in your pictures.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
9. sullivanweather
4:11 AM GMT on April 03, 2013

I really do hope so. I put some broccoli in yesterday (have yet to post the pictures) and I'm a bit worried they may not survive. Usually broccoli will tolerate temperatures down as low as 22F I've found (some varieties even lower) but last night got down to 25F and the wind combined with those temps may have zapped a few. I took a look at them this afternoon and there's a couple that don't look so well. We'll see what happens in a couple days. Tonight is looking to be another chilly one as does tomorrow night. So if they survive the next two nights (I put them under clear plastic 4 oz. bathroom cups and covered them with a tarp) I think they'll make it. If not I guess I'll have to start them over.

BTW, if you grow a garden consider purchasing a pack of those 4 oz. bathroom cups. They double as micro greenhouses. Just bury the bottom 1/2" of the lip of the cup in the soil and viola! Just make sure they're the clear plastic kind so some light gets in if you don't get out to them early in the morning to remove the cups.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
8. sullivanweather
4:04 AM GMT on April 03, 2013

I have to admit, though, I am jealous of your latitude. I'm looking at my weather station readout right now and it says 30.1°F and I'm sure you're likely enjoying some 60's or so.

In fact, the warmest we've been this year thus far is 55.6°F which is amazing because I think last year we already had 20 days over 60 by this time. Madness, I say!

Glad you stopped by!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
3:25 AM GMT on April 03, 2013
you got a green tumb i can see that no doubt iam sure they will look great once everything grows in if it warms up which it will just a little longer
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
6. Skyepony (Mod)
3:22 AM GMT on April 03, 2013
This is going to fun to watch grow.

Like what you did with the rearrangement. It's good for a garden to shake it up, move things around as it changes.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
5. sullivanweather
3:14 AM GMT on April 03, 2013
Hiya Listener!

You've been keeping busy, I see.

Ahh, yes, stone walls =)
Aren't they grand? Best of all, the stones are free. Since I have that brook which cuts through the backyard there's an endless supply. Usually within a few months of grabbing the better stones I can always count on a good inch and a half rainfall to turn up some new ones. And since they aren't these large, cumbersome wood planks I can easily reshape beds whenever need be. Did I mention they don't leach nasties into the ground either? lol
Stones are my pals and maybe, one day, I will compose An Ode to Stones. =)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
4. sullivanweather
3:06 AM GMT on April 03, 2013

It's good to see you here as well and thank you for the lovely praise. How've ya been?

Just trying to stay warm here. The wind and the cold chased me in today therefore I didn't get much done out in the garden. But I did some work yesterday, of which I will post new pics of in a new blog tomorrow, probably.

Thanks for stopping by!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
3. listenerVT
2:57 AM GMT on April 03, 2013
How did I miss this before tonight?!
Ah yes, I'm head-down working on a grandbaby quilt before the shower this weekend.

Wonderful to see!!
I especially like your use of stones! I love stone walls.

You are such an inspiration!
THANKS for posting and I'll check more regularly!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
2. NumberWise
2:36 AM GMT on March 31, 2013
Wow - lots of work! You have accomplished a lot in a short time already. Even though my gardening days are over, I enjoyed reading your garden blogs before. It's good to have you back.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1. originalLT
4:12 AM GMT on March 27, 2013
Hi Sully, thanks for the "tour" of your garden area. Can't wait to see it in the coming months. I sure hope you post pictures as it really gets going.My land at my house is so rocky, it's hard to plant much. It's very frustrating. These rocks are not only from Connecticut's naturally rocky soil, but from when the houses in my area were built, 50-55years ago. I think the developer back then just dumped many of the rocks they encountered while digging the foundations, all over the properties there. Makes it real difficult now. My neighbors have found the same problems.
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