January 2016
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Spring Will Be Here Before You Know It

It’s January and it’s cold outside. There’s still time to rest up before spring planting, right? No way! It’s time to get busy now. Even though it’s cold outside, there’s a lot to get started on. This is an important time to prepare for the spring planting season.

Where we live is in zone 7B, right at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. We get wild fluctuations in temperatures this time of year. In the last month we’ve had days in the 70s and others below 20. We don’t get snow like other areas up north so there are a lot of opportunities to get things done outside. There are several projects I’m working on here to get ready for the spring.

Getting Control of Overgrown Areas
The cold weather has its advantages. It helps to knock back the bugs before the warm season. It also slows down the plant growth. This is the time of year to clean up areas that are harder to access when everything is growing fast. For example, we had an area that was taken over by wild blackberries and I don’t want them there. They spread fast, have nasty thorns, and are no fun to mess with in the summer. This time of year they are dormant and much easier to manage. I got out there with a long-sleeved sweatshirt and leather gloves and cleared them out down to the ground. Next season I can control the area with a mower. I also pruned and cleared some areas overgrown with brush. Get out there now and get control of those areas before they take over.

Mulching, Mulching, and More Mulching
We’re always working on building soil, but this time of year is especially good for that. There are a lot of leaves on the ground that make great mulch. We mulched the garden beds to keep the winter weeds down and help prepare them for spring. We mulched around our fruit trees with cardboard and chopped leaves to keep the grasses from growing around the trunks and to keep moisture in.

We’ve also been doing a lot of sheet mulching around our swales. We sheet mulch with cardboard or newspaper covered with chopped leaves and grass clippings. This will slow down the lawn grasses and start building up the soil. We sheet mulch the uphill side of the swales and the downhill side below the berms. The uphill side of the swales are being prepared for planting nitrogen fixing trees in March. The downhill side will eventually get fruit trees and berries.

Finally, we’ve been mulching our swale berms to add organic matter and promote earthworm activity.

Planning for New Trees
In early March, we’ll be planting a lot of bare root trees in our new swale berms. We’ve added over 200 feet of swales recently and that’s an opportunity for quite a few trees. Right now we’re planning all the new tree locations and getting ready to place orders. Nitrogen fixing honey locusts will go on the uphill side of the swales. Fruit trees will go in the berm on the downhill side.

This year I did more research and have planned out the placement my fruit trees so they will provide more prolonged harvests with staggered production. The idea is to group compatible trees together that bear fruit at different times so we have fresh fruit over longer periods during the growing season.

Planning the Schedule of Spring Activities
This is the time to plan your schedule of upcoming activities. In the next few weeks, it will be time to order the trees for March planting. It will also be time soon to start lettuces and other greens from seeds inside so they’ll be ready for transplanting outside a few weeks later. By early March it will be time to transplant some of the lettuces into garden beds. I also grow lettuces in aquaponics raft beds. It will be time in March to start up the aquaponics system to get the lettuces going. When the shipment arrives, there will be a lot of new bare root trees to plant.

Because I have a full-time job, I have to do most of my gardening on the weekends. So I schedule these activities on a calendar to make sure I give myself adequate time to get everything done. Whatever your preferred method, do something to organize your schedule.

Take Advantage of the Downtime
I started planning for 2016 during the holidays. Since there’s less daylight now, I take advantage of the free time in the evenings to do research and planning. If you haven’t done your planning yet, get started now. Spring will be here before you know it.

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