How To Start Your Garden Before your Good Intentions Go To Seed!


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Soil Preparation

In the spring, turn under organic materials, manure, and dolomite lime. Let the garden spot rest about two weeks and turn under again. (This is for composted manure. Fresh manure should be allowed to compost or work in the ground for a couple of months so as not to burn your new seedlings.) If you are turning in something like sawdust, add extra nitrogen in some form so that the decomposing sawdust or shavings won't rob your plants of nitrogen. Organic materials that break down quickly will not present this problem if allowed to stand for about two weeks.

Possible Organic Soil Builders

Alfalfa or Timothy Hay

Chicken Manure with or without litter


Horse Manure


Other Manures



Grass Clippings

Bone Meal


Cottonseed Meal

Seaweed (Kelp)


Cow Manure

Wood Ashes

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Most soils need a periodic addition of lime or wood ashes to keep the pH balance in the neighborhood of 6.3 &endash; 7.0 (ideal for vegetables). Our soil in the Northwest tends to be acidic. If you are in doubt, check the pH balance with a soil testing kit. A basic rule of thumb is to spread a 12-quart bucket full of dolomite lime or wood ashes on every 1000 square feet of garden space. This done every three to four years should keep the pH where you want it.

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Time to Plant (Northwest)


Early May to Early July

Cabbage Family (Plants)

Early April to Mid-July (seeds 5 wks. sooner)

Root Crops: Beets, Carrots, Radishes

Mid-March to Late July

Corn (Should mature in 78 days or less)

Mid-May to Mid-June


Late May to Early July


First of April to Mid-August


Mid-March to Mid-May


Mid-Feb.-Mid-June or Late Aug. to 1st Sept.

Peppers (Plants)

Late May to Early July

Squash and Pumpkins

Mid-May to Mid June (may be started indoors

3-4 weeks earlier in Jiff-7's)

Tomato Plants (Short Season Varieties)

Mid-May to Mid-June


March to Mid-May

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Labor, Space, Time, and Water-Saving Ideas!

Starting Plants Early

I have had good results starting cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins indoors in Jiffy-7 pellets three to four weeks before planting time. Place the Jiffy-7's in warm water until they swell to full size (years ago a friend had a most frustrating experience trying to plant the seeds before soaking the pellets!). Press out the excess water and place them in a dish that can be situated on a sunny windowsill. (Bread pan size and 9" square Pyrex dishes are nice.) Plant 3 or 4 seeds 1/2 to 1 inch deep in each Jiffy-7 pellet. Each pellet will be one "hill" when planted out in the garden. Cover your dishes with Saran wrap and set them in a sunny place or under grow lights. As soon as seedlings start to emerge, remove the plastic. Thin seedlings to about one or two per pellet. I leave two for bush squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins. You be the judge. As soon as the seedlings are three or four weeks old and have fully developed their first set of true leaves, set them immediately out in the garden, being careful not to disturb the roots. If you leave them in the house too long their growth will be stunted. You can take the netting off the pellets when you plant, if you wish. These plants will not start growing new leaves immediately, but soon they'll really take off and have a jump on ones grown from seed.

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Mulch - Black Plastic

For vine crops such as the above and tomatoes, I have found black plastic mulch to be very effective. Work in your soil amendments ahead of time and make sure the soil is moist before laying down your black plastic. Lay down the strips and secure them in place by burying the edges with soil. Cut holes (slits or T-shapes) at the required distances and plant your seeds or Jiffy-7's. The plastic is especially good for vine crops because it absorbs heat and keeps the moisture level constant, as well as eliminating the weeds! The plants will usually get plenty of water from the holes and around the edges of the plastic. If the sheet is really large, punch a few extra holes.


Mulch - Straw

Straw also makes an excellent mulch for any crop. A light six-inch layer between rows of most vegetables will smother most weeds and the ones that do come through are easily pulled. This mulch can be worked into the soil after the growing season to add organic matter or you can simply add to it the next year, Ruth Stout style. She just mulched with straw or hay every year and moved it aside where she wanted to plant her seeds. After all, horse and cow manure are essentially hay that has had some of the nutrients removed and been recycled!

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Wide Row Planting

Wide row planting is very successful with the following crops: Carrots and Beets, Onion sets, Lettuce, Peas, and Bush Beans.

Here's how you do it:

1) Stake With String. Use two lengths of string and four stakes to mark off an area about 10 inches wide, or the width of a normal steel rake.

2) Rake Smooth. Rake over the area between the strings until it is smooth. Make no indentations or furrows.

3) Broadcast Seed. Broadcast seed over the raked area as if you were seeding a lawn; remember to plant vegetable seeds a little thinner than grass seed. Large seeds such as peas and beans may be spaced 2-4 inches apart and pushed down with your finger.

4) Cover Seed. After sowing fine seeds of vegetables such as lettuce, chard, and beets, walk over the seeded plot, then smooth down the spaces between your tracks with the back of a rake. Firm the soil with the back of the hoe. You can also sprinkle soil from the sides of the row on top of the seeds and then firm with the hoe.

5) Thin With a Rake. Use an iron rake with stiff teeth to thin seedlings when they are 1/2 to 1inch tall. Drag the rake slowly over the row, taking out quite a few plants. Large-seeded plants probably won't need thinning.

Some vegetables may need more thinning before reaching maturity. This can be done by harvesting small plants such as in the case of baby carrots.

Peas can be planted in rows wider than 10 inches. Three feet works very well. Plant dwarf varieties or "bush" peas and they will support themselves (after a fashion!).

There are two distinct advantages to wide row planting. You can grow four to seven times more produce than you can grow in single rows in the same amount of space. The second advantage is less frequent weeding. As the plants grow they shade out the majority of the weeds. You will probably only weed your rows twice during the season. The rest of the time you may have a weed appear here or there which will be easily pulled.


These are just a few suggestions to help you have a positive gardening experience. There are many ways to produce good vegetables. Just start small, plant something you like to eat, and give the plants what they need. A word about watering &endash; it's better to water deeply once a week than to sprinkle your garden every day. You want to encourage deep root systems on your plants, not shallow ones. One more important point to remember:

A small garden managed well will produce more than a large garden badly neglected!

[Sunflower Row]

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 If you have any comments, or if I can be of help with any gardening questions you might have, contact me at CLICK HERE.