Warming Garden Soil

gardeningwinter

I think I read somewhere that this is the 14th coldest winter on record so far.  The soil is frozen down to a very deep depth and now it’s covered with a thick layer of snow.  I fully plan on putting in my early spring gardens by the middle of March, so I need to act now to get the soil thawed out and warmed up so that my baby plants can hit the ground running and make salads as soon as possible.

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To get the soil ready to plant, it is necessary to get most of this snow off of the beds you plan on using first.  If you let the snow melt off, you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks at least and you’ll end up with soggy soil that’s not good to work in.  Get out there this weekend or sometime this week and shovel off most of the snow.  You don’t have to get it all off, but remove as much as you can.

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Partially cleared off bed with soaker dripline already installed.

To speed up the thawing and warming of the soil, you really need to cover your bed with some form of covering. You have three main options, glass, clear plastic, or black plastic.  If you have access to some old windows or sliding glass doors, you can lay these over your bed as an excellent source of solar energy retention and insulation.  You can find these windows on craigslist.org or from construction sites where they are installing new windows in an old house.

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Double tunnel covered raised beds tucked under a blanket of snow. The EMT conduit hoops really held up well to the snow and high winds this winter.

 

If you don’t have access to glass for a covering, you can use either clear or black plastic film  Both types of plastic work well at allowing solar energy to warm your soil and help with retaining heat at night to keep the soil from re-freezing.  I’ve tried both and prefer the black plastic film.  Clear film can actually make your soil too hot and kill beneficial bacteria (solarization) , black is a good balance of hot, but not too hot.

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When you lay your plastic over your beds, make sure that it has good contact with the soil  With clear plastic, you can stretch the film tight over the bed and the solar energy will pass through to the soil, but with black you need to have the film touching the soil or it won’t transfer the heat very well.

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Anchor the plastic well with garden staples.  You may need a hammer to drive them through the frozen soil.  When it’s time to plant in March, just remove the fabric, plant your seedlings or sow your seeds and then cover with a low tunnel of agribond for continued protection from frosts and cold winds.

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Tiny lettuce seedlings

Meanwhile in the greenhouse, we have growth…very slow growth.  I am keeping the temperature from falling below freezing, but not warm enough to make them grow rapidly.  I am hoping for sturdy, stocky seedlings ready to transplant in March.

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Micro-greens!

Get out there, do some shoveling and covering and you’ll be rewarded with garden soil that’s ready to plant much earlier than anyone else on your block.  In the meantime, stock up on croutons because fresh salads are not far away!

 

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