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By Rashid Nuri of Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Ag

Now is the time to plan and build an organic spring garden at your home. What is the first step?

1. Determine the best place for your garden.

The garden should be located in an area that is fully exposed to the sun. You will pay more attention to your garden the nearer it is to the house. Make sure that water is readily available.

2. Get the soil right.

The single most important factor in creating a successful garden is soil preparation. I call it dirt making. If you create good healthy soil, the plants which grow in that soil will also be healthy. Healthy plants are disease resistant.

Begin soil preparation by gently turning the soil. If this is the first time the land is being used to grow food, a tiller may prove helpful. Too much tillage destroys soil structure. Subsequent soil preparation can be done with a spade or garden fork.

After opening the soil add copious amounts of organic material such as compost, leaf mold, well rotted sawdust or decomposed animal manure. You can make your own compost or purchase it from most garden supply stores.

Compost is the key to successful gardening. Compost added to gardens improves soil structure, texture, aeration, and water retention. When mixed with compost, clay soils are lightened, and sandy soils retain water better. Mixing compost with soil also contributes to erosion control, soil fertility, proper pH balance, and healthy root development in plants.

3. Plan your garden’s layout.

Make beds in the garden that are separated by walkways. You do not want to walk in the area that you plant with vegetables. Walking on a vegetable bed compacts the soil and retards plant growth.

Utilize the garden space wisely. Select crops you will eat and enjoy. You must like what you plant or the garden space and the food will both be wasted. Decide what you want to plant and where you will plant it. Know what you will plant after the spring season crop is finished. Southern exposure has the most light. Tall crops should be planted on the north and west side of the garden to prevent shading of smaller plants.

4. Pick what you want to grow.

Plant cool season crops at this time of year. Broccoli, cauliflower, mustards, collards, lettuce, spinach, kale and other leafy vegetables as well as beets, turnips and carrots  These crops require shorter days and cooler soil to thrive. Many varieties survive cold and frost, which is the reason we can grow greens throughout the winter in the south.

Use known or recommended cultivars for your main planting. Always buy good quality open- pollinated or heirloom seed from a reputable company. In my opinion, you will be better off not buying hybrid or genetically modified seed. Many nurseries have transplant seedlings available that save time.

The dates below are for early season crops planted in metropolitan Atlanta, which is located in USDA plant hardiness Zone 7 or, arguably, Zone 8.  Check with your local extension agent or garden nursery for planting dates where you live.

Spring Vegetables And Their Planting Dates

  • Asparagus, Jan 15 – Mar 1
  • Beets, Feb 15 – April 1
  • Broccoli, Feb 15 – Mar 15
  • Cabbage, Jan 15 – Mar 15
  • Carrots, Jan 15 – Mar 29
  • Cauliflower, Mar 1 – Apr 1
  • Collards, Feb 15 – Mar 15
  • Kale, Feb 1 – Mar 10
  • Lettuce, Jan 15 – Mar 1
  • Mustard, Jan 15 – Apr 1
  • Onions, Jan 1 – Mar 15
  • Peas, Jan 15 – Feb 15
  • Potatoes, Irish, Jan 15 – Mar 15
  • Radish, Jan 15 – Apr 1
  • Spinach, Jan 15 – Mar 15
  • Turnips, Jan 15 – Apr 1

You can plant these cool season crops over the next few months. Then it will be time to begin planting summer crops. Watch the moon and learn its phases. My own experience demonstrates that things grown above the ground should be planted during the waxing moon, and things that grow below the ground on the waning moon.

5. Water the garden as often as needed to maintain a uniform moisture supply.

In the absence of rain, an inch of water once a week will probably be adequate for heavier soils. Light sandy soils might require water more often.  It is best to water early in the morning so foliage will dry quickly. This helps prevent diseases.

Good luck with your garden! Growing food can be a most rewarding and very spiritual experience. Not only will you benefit from consuming the healthful food you produce, but you will also bring yourself closer to the ultimate realities of creation.