Early spring gardening

Anderson prepares her garden plot for the growing season. Photo submitted by Sue Anderson.

The last of the garden potatoes were cooked up for dinner tonight. The freezer is emptying out and the jars of fruits and vegetables, jams and sauces are looking mighty thin in the pantry. Luckily, it’s time to gear up for another garden season and start the process of planting, tending, harvesting and preserving all over again.

But before many seeds go in the ground, a thought or two about soil might be in order. Although it looks rather inert and dead, your garden soil is teaming with life. It’s a whole other universe out there, some of which you can see: earthworms, ants and potato beetles. Much of it is too small for the eye to see: bacteria and fungi. All of those living critters in your soil are affected by what you do in your garden and play a huge role in producing those beautiful tomatoes every August.

“If you take care of the top two inches of soil, it will take care of the rest,” I once read. Growing a beautiful garden really is a team effort, you and those microbes.

The book that has really changed my thoughts on gardening and soil preparation is called Teaming With Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis. It’s short and easy to read. It talks about the complexity of soil in layman’s terms. You’ll discover that you don’t need a degree in soil science to treat those soil critters well. I stopped rototilling my garden after the first read. After the second time through, I made sure there was something on the soil year-round, either something living like my vegetables or a cover crop or a mulch like leaves or hay. Big pieces of cardboard can also help cover the ground, smother weeds and provide food for soil critters. Really being serious about my compost piles has been another fallout from that little book.

So this time of year has me tending the soil in my garden: shoveling up the top 3 inches of last year’s pathways that had been covered in leaves and is now a lovely crumbly soil amendment, turning the compost and adding that to garden beds if it’s ready, opening bags of leaves that have waited through the long winter on the sidelines and filling in those pathways once again.

Very soon those seedlings and seeds can get introduced to their new home where they will have an instant community of friends ready to help them grow.