The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Preheating soil for the spring garden

Weeding quick hoopsThe main difference between planting in early spring as opposed to after the frost-free date is soil temperature --- cold ground makes seeds rot before they sprout.  Luckily, there are several methods of heating up the soil, ranging from the simple to the complex.

Rake back the mulch.  I'm assuming you're working with a no-till garden, mulched heavily for the winter to keep weeds from taking over.  (If not, you're going to have trouble planting early in the spring since your ground will probably be too wet to till, sometimes until June.)  While mulch is extremely handy during most of the year, the coating of organic matter acts like a layer of insulation in early spring, preventing the lengthening days from warming the ground.  The solution is simple --- rake back the mulch.  I usually pull my spring mulch to the sides of the beds a week or two before planting each one.  That way, weeds don't have time to grow, but the soil gets a chance to warm up.  Once the seedlings are a few inches tall, you can push the same mulch back up around their ankles, preventing competitive weeds from outgrowing your vegetables.

Add dark organic matter.  You've probably noticed how wearing a black shirt in the sun heats your body up quickly.  You can put the same science to work in the garden by topdressing your beds with a layer of dark-colored organic matter.  Good compost, well-rotted manure, or even biochar can work.  For more extreme soil preheating, you can lay down a dark sheet of plastic on the soil, but be aware that this technique can kill soil microorganisms.

Weekend Homesteader paperbackErect a quick hoopThe quick hoops you built in October are easy to move to a fresh plot of land to create mini-greenhouses on top of your spring beds.  Putting up a quick hoop a week or two before planting can warm the soil by several degrees.

You probably noticed that each of these techniques shares two factors --- sun and time.  Your soil will naturally warm up as spring advances; you're just trying to expedite the process so you can jumpstart the garden year.  To eat from your garden as soon as possible, combine all three methods and plant seeds as much as three months before your frost-free date.

This week's lunchtime series is excerpted from Weekend Homesteader: March.  I saved some of my favorite projects for last, so I hope you'll splurge 99 cents to read about growing edible mushrooms, composting, and attracting native pollinators.  And, of course, the ebook has the full spring planting chapter in case you just can't wait to read each installment at noon this week.

This post is part of our Spring Planting lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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