Spring into action before planting season

Heather Brown's column looks at tackling the final winter chores around the garden.

As a follow up to the last column, winter chores, I have some suggestions here for the time left in the lead-up to spring in the garden.

This winter we tidied up the vegetable garden, including the pathways.

Ten years ago we put in six raised beds and at that time covered the pathways in the veggie garden with chipped wood mulch.  Every winter I would fork it over to loosen up anything that sprouted during the growing season, and then give it a good raking to even out the depth. It was good to go for the following spring.

Well, it has finally composted down to a healthy growing medium — not for things I want to grow, but for weeds, especially dandelions.

Digging it over was just encouraging the roots of the weeds to send up multiple heads come spring. If I went away for a week they just took advantage of that time to sprout, flower, spread seeds and flower again.

This winter my husband and I dug out the old mulch and scrapped down the weeds as best we could. The old mulch was discarded on the “wild compost” pile where limbs, pruning leftovers, grass clippings and what-have-yous were dumped over the years. It gets turned with a small back hoe occasionally.

We resurfaced the pathways around the garden paths with cedar shavings from a small sawmill. It looks and smells lovely. It is about 10 fluffy inches deep right now and should compress to half that over the summer.

My husband had concerns about oil leaching from the cedar shavings into the garden. I don’t think that’s a problem, as the raised beds are dug into the ground about 6 inches and rise about a foot above the ground. The amount of rain we get over the spring will help dilute any oils being leached out.

Cedar shavings are supposed to be good for suppressing seed germination and many insects aren’t too keen on it either, so its a win-win situation.

The beds are freshly turned and ready for compost additions and, soon, seeding. The poles for the pea and bean nets are in. The veggie garden looks ready for spring.

A project we did two winters ago was to put in an alternate water supply for the gardens. We are on well water out here and, touch wood, have great luck with the water supply.

I still hoard water like a camel in case something happens. That comes from growing up in Sooke, a much drier area of the island.  To save on well water I have a large barrel collecting water off the barn roof.  There is an old fashioned pump to siphon water for the garden and nearby planters. The grandkids think pumping water out is great fun, the downside being that they all need their clothes run through the dryer before they can go home.

I keep a bucket under the spout for the dogs to have drink, but I do have a couple of concerns regarding the uses of roof water.  One concerns things that may land on the roof (bird droppings and the like), the other is, it is an asphalt roof. How do these things impact water quality?

The roof is about 20 years old now and not much in the way of shingle debris comes off it but there is still the bird issue. I don’t let the kids drink water from the collection barrel but I think the dogs are fine.

After all, look where they get their water from if left to fend for themselves, i.e. the toilet and road puddles.

To keep mosquitoes from laying eggs in the barrel over the summer months I cover up the opening on top with a bucket of water (saved for priming the pump). Barring that, float a capful of vegetable oil on the surface.

This keep the mosquitoes from using the water and if they do manage to sneak in, the larval stage will not survive as the oil floating on the surface keeps them from reaching the air they need to breathe.

Using plant-based cooking oil will not harm plants or animals that the water may come in contact with, but used crankcase oil will. Don’t be tempted.

Next column I will touch on pruning, wet spots in the garden, lime sulphur dormant sprays, liniment salves versus ibuprophen, and “trellis or pergola for the kiwi vine”.

Heather Mary Brown is a seasoned North Island gardener. Email questions to hmbrown@cablerocket.com

 

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