Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2005
Regional Report

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After cutting the main head of broccoli, many side shoots will provide meals for months!

Getting Started in this Year's Garden

Now's the time most people actually get out into the garden. Here are some first steps to preparing your garden soil, getting seeds started, and deciding what to plant where.

Improving the Soil
Raised beds with lots of organic matter added provide growing areas that don't get trampled, and they encourage extensive, healthy root growth and allow more thorough drainage. After clipping and digging in green manure crops, wait about two weeks before transplanting vegetable and flower seeds or seedlings. This will allow the greenery to decay sufficiently to provide nutrients to the new plantings. The heat produced from the decomposing green manure will burn seeds trying to sprout or transplants trying to get settled in.

To loosen clay soil and provide slowly-released nutrition, add up to 50 percent organic matter: leafy material, straw, grass clippings, and non-greasy kitchen vegetable scraps. Sand will not do the job (remember that contractors mix sand and clay and water to make cement). Continue applying organic matter as mulch throughout the year and each time you change crops. Turn it all under in the fall for a rich and friable soil in the spring.

Tending Seedlings
Soaking seeds prior to planting -- or planting seeds in soil that is too wet -- may do more harm than good. When seeds take up water too quickly, their outer coverings crack. This allows nutrients to leak out and disease organisms to enter. Beans are especially prone to this problem.

Be gentle with all seedlings: handle the little plants by their root clumps or leaves rather than stems, and never squeeze them tightly. They will grow new leaves and roots, but they can't develop new stems.

Reduce damping-off of seedlings by providing good air circulation, cool temperatures, ample sunlight, and good drainage. To get rid of damping off fungus that's already appeared, make a strong chamomile tea by steeping 3 teaspoons in 6 cups of boiling water until it cools. Water the seedlings with this tea two or three times in place of plain water until all signs of damping off have vanished.

An average of six hours of direct sun daily is the minimum amount necessary for leaf and rooting crops like lettuce and carrots. At least eight is necessary for blossoming and fruiting crops like tomatoes and squash.

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