The Garden Patch: Gardeners grow nervously excited as spring arrives

Here’s a spring to-do list for all of us … ready for this?

  • Prepare your garden soil once it has dried out and crumbles easily in your hand. I turn mine in the fall when the growing season is over and all crops have been harvested.
  • Turn under winter killed cover crops. Incorporate green cover crops such as winter rye into the soil at least two weeks before your transplant date.
  • Add compost!
  • Top dress garden beds with compost.
  • Use mulch to deter weeds; reapply as needed.
  • Keep all newly planted crops well watered if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate by providing sufficient rain.
  • Presprout peas and potatoes in advance of setting them out in the garden to give them a head start.
  • Plant cool-season veggies and flowers such as peas, spinach, foxgloves and hollyhocks as soon as the ground can be worked.
  • Start seeds of cool season vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale indoors under grow lights in March if you didn’t start them in February.
  • Plant cool-season vegetables such as mustard greens, lettuce, peas, radishes and spinach in cold- or warm-frames (cold frames with heat cables or another heat source) in late March or early April.
  • Start seeds of warm-season vegetables such as eggplant, peppers and tomatoes indoors the first week of April to transplant into the garden in late May.
  • Direct seed beets, carrots, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce, parsnips, peas and spinach and place onion sets into the garden in April. Set out hardy seedlings such as cabbage, leafy greens, onions, pansies and snapdragons, allowing them to harden-off for a day or two in a protected area.
  • Plant out warm-season vegetable plants – cucumbers, eggplant, melons, squash and tomatoes – around the safe planting-out date. Check with the Extension Office to find the last frost date for your garden – somewhere around April 15 in our area.
  • Go ahead and pick those long awaited first asparagus spears in April and May.
  • Set out warm season bulbs such as dahlias, cannas and gladiolus in May.

Also on the spring to-do list – plant some potatoes!

From this ...

From this …

Looking for some adventure? Grow some spuds in your garden! Choose unusual varieties you can’t find on the produce aisle or something neat you discovered at a farmers market.

What do we need to grow ‘em? Potatoes need full sun! They will grow fine in moderately fertile soil enriched with organic matter. If the site isn’t well drained build a raised bed (that’s what I do).

To this ... in just a few short months.

To this … in just a few short months!

When you’re ready to plant – it is critical to buy certified disease-free potatoes. Do not plant the ones that are left over from the bag of cookers in the basement! Potatoes grow best in at least 50 degree F soil temperature. If you plant them in a trench (4 inches deep), cover the seed potatoes with at least 2” of soil right away, then fill the trench as the foliage emerges and use a hoe to hill up loose soil once (two times is better) as they continue to grow. At the end of the season the plants will be covered by a low mound of soil.

If you surface-plant expect a lower yield than the method above. Loosen the top few inches of soil; lay the seed pieces on the soil (cut side down) and mulch with shredded leaves, leaf mold or clean straw. Add mulch as the plants grow keeping a several inches thick layer over the tubers. The mulch will protect the tubers and minimize weeding. Always remember that the tubers are growing close to the surface so you have to watch out for damage with your hoe and sunburn!

The timing of the harvest of potatoes will vary greatly depending upon what product you want – if it’s small “spring potatoes” – dig early. If you want bakers, dig late! You can check on the size of your spuds by gently moving some of the soil with your hand to take a look inside the hill. Be gentle and cover them back up when you’re done. Check with the extension office or your local nursery for more specific details.

Potatoes have shallow roots and need LOTS of water, especially when the foliage is fully developed and the tubers are getting bigger. If your soil is sandy, water as often as every three days (but we have clay). Cut back on the watering when the foliage starts to turn yellow. If you don’t, the tubers will rot. Cover newly planted areas with row cover and seal the edges to protect young sprouts from aphids, Colorado potato beetles and other pests.

Problems? Crop rotation is very important for potatoes because of the many problems they face. Watch your plants very closely for any type of problems and contact your local nursery or Conservation Office for a solution if you detect a problem.

Vines may die back on their own as the potato crop matures but if they don’t, cut them off at soil level two weeks before you want to dig your potatoes. This will trigger your potatoes to harden which helps them last longer in storage.

There you have it – the “scoop” on spuds! They are relatively easy to grow (despite the complicated instructions you just read), and fun to eat! Incidentally, I have an old window screen hanging over my potting bench and when I dig my spuds, I put them on the screen for two or three days to dry and harden and that works just fine. No bug or worm problems, either. Grow some – you won’t go back to store-bought!

Well, that’s it for another week! Hope your garden plans are coming along nicely and that you’re ready to plant! For us gardeners, it starts getting nervous out this time of year, doesn’t it? Till next week! Thanks for reading!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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