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How Can We Get The Vegetable Garden Soil Ready For Spring?

Michigan Soil before planting a cover crop.

Another great spring of gardening is upon us for growing a vegetable garden,  if we took the crucial step before winter that will benefit our next growing season we are thinking about ways to till cover crops into the garden soil. Remember when planting your vegetable garden that soil will eat first. Lets get our fields and vegetable gardens ready for biological activity by having cover crops in our programs to help improve soil fertility.  Growing vegetables for nutrition is the quest but our garden soil is a limiting factor if we do not manage it properly. So many cover crops, what do I grow?

We cant tell you what to grow, but here is a few things you should know:

1. You need to take into consideration what crops are going to be planted in the spring. How early do you plan on putting them in? Growing the wrong cover crop can make things challenging for growers, especially midwest growers who are planting early in the spring. If the wrong cover crop is grown or has not been properly managed, access growth and root structure will play a factor in decomposition. The garden soil will have large chucks of root structure and organic matter to break down before the nutrients in the  garden soil will be available to the plants.

2. Most cover crops are legumes with nitrogen-fixing bacteria living in root nodules. After these plants are tilled into the ground the fixed nitrogen will begin to release. Tilling cover crops at the proper time will help growers achieve maximum benefits. Environmental conditions will play an important role on decomposition.Higher levels of nitrogen will increase the speed of decomposition, turning the organic matter into soil organic matter. Soil organic matter (SOM) is decomposition beyond the point of recogniton. To achieve this the organic matter should be worked into the top 6-7 inches of the soil. Soil moisture, temperature will determine the rate of decomposition so plan accordingly.

3. Cover crops will slow down the rate and quantity of water that will drain from our fields and help with soil erosion. The major factor being the cover crop roots are anchored into the ground, this environment is ideal for water infiltration. In many instances soils have conditions of hydrophobia, which is the tendency to not absorb water. Cover crop roots can grow many feet deep into the ground creating room for water holding capacity. This deep penetration of the roots growing in the garden soil will help create a soil environment with oxygen, essential if you want your soil to be alive. With Bare fields we let our valuable nutrients wash away without having the chance to put up a fight to stay around for our next growing season.

4. Depending on crop rotations, cover crops can be a beneficial environment for wildlife. Cover crops will bloom and attract our lovely pollinators. Weed suppression can be a benefit from planting cover crops and make for a better scenery than a field full of weeds. Once the weeds reach full maturity they have been given the chance to spread seeds for reproduction, cover crops can help suppress the germination of weed seeds. After lowering the population of weed seeds in our field by using cover crops, we are not giving weeds a chance at germinating and reproducing. Growing cover crops takes management and planning but it will help garden soil. Most commonly in the midwest rye is planted as a cover crop because many  farmers harvest into fall.

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How to Start Seeds in Rockwool- Start Growing Tomatoes for your Vegetable Garden

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This time of year most of us are excited for spring and ready to spend some time outside in the garden. Garden ideas are best planned ahead of the growing season, the garden ideas we come up with now for an indoor garden will allow us to get a early start on the gardening season. If you want a jump start on your garden this year you can start now by growing an indoor garden. Make sure the environment for your indoor garden is insulated with proper air ventilation. Using rockwool cubes as a medium for starting seeds in a indoor garden can work great from germination through harvest, or can serve as a way to get plants started so they will be larger when the time comes to plant outside.

It is important when growing tomatoes in a container gardening operation to maintain proper temperatures for fruit set development and most importantly to have the proper lighting conditions.  When growing a indoor garden, high quality lights are needed for a growing healthy and productive plants. Have you ever noticed  growing tomatoes with low quality lights results in stretchy plants. It is common for growers to start their seeds in heated greenhouses or inside a dark germination room then moving the plants directly under artificial lighting after the seeds have germinated.Working with small humidity domes and a heating pads will increase the germination rate, growers need to be aware that pads with no control pads can get the tray to hot causing seeds to not germinate. As your plants grow they will require a larger medium. Small rockwool cubes can be purchased for germination and fit into a 72 count tray.When growing tomatoes the seeds need to germinate around 90 degrees but not to exceed much over 90 degrees. Soaking the rockwool in water with the correct pH around 5.5-5.7 for at least 30 minuets before planting seeds, will give the medium enough moisture to get a start on germinating the seeds. The rockwool must remain moist over the period of time the seeds are germinating.

If your growing heirloom tomatoes in your vegetable garden heirloom, keep in mind that heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate meaning they will grow in height until they are finished. The germination process of heirloom seeds is critical because we do not want stretchy plants. Organic farming operations do not pay bills from growing plant material, fruit is what pays the bills.  Container gardening can yield healthy food before most local produce is ready for market, this gives organic farmers a chance at a profitable early market. While those who use container gardening on their patio can benefit from having fresh produce earlier in the season. Container Gardening is popular for growing tomatoes across the country for gardeners and commercial growers.