Removing the plastic from young rhubarb.

Removing the plastic from young rhubarb.

Dirt Girl: Prepping your raised bed

With starts on my windowsill and any other place I can find to cram them in, I’m ready for the time to plant them outside. I’ve gone to the garden to see what things I can do to prepare the beds, so that when it’s time to plant everything is in place.

To prep the bed, take off the dark covering whether it is a tarp, black plastic, or fabric cloth and place clear plastic unless your garlic has emerged. This will create a mini greenhouse, multiplying the warmth from the sun on those beautiful days we’ve had. If you put on seaweed mulch, you can either leave it on to protect those emerging garlic shoots or you can take it off. Mulch keeps the soil colder, yet it can also serve as protection.

If your raised beds are bowing outwards, take the time to put in stakes to strengthen the sides. Repair any damage to the bed walls. The same thing goes if you have a trellis. Check for wear and tear and fix what you can now. Time will run by fast and you these types of projects are harder to do when you have plants to protect.

When I went out to the community garden in mid-March, the soil could be broken, but it was held together in clods by ice crystals. It was not able to be worked. Soil is ready when it breaks apart easily.

Even with ice holding the soil together, I had buttercups emerging bright green against the brown. Pull out weeds now as it’s the easiest time. When you’ve finished, embrace the fleeting joy of seeing your garden completely weed free. You don’t have these moments often, so take a moment to celebrate.

In my newly constructed beds, I’m going to dig out the soil and then line it with a fabric cloth. After battling endless weeds last summer, I’ve put this on my priority list. After I dig out the soil, I’m going to line the bottom with cardboard and wet it as a further protection against unwanted plants.

For my other beds, I’m going to loosen the soil. During the winter soil compacts due to rain and snow. However, try not to turn it over; instead gently loosen it. Microorganisms live in the top layer of the soil. Some will have died in the colder weather, but they are being replaced by others moving up the soil line toward the warmth. You want to avoid damaging them by tossing them down into the bottom of the soil if you turn it over.

Use a three-pronged fork to gently move the soil around to loosen it. Add compost and other nutrients to the top layer. You don’t need to mix them as they will work their way down the soil line.

This is a good time to check the pH of your soil. There are simple tests that are available and more complex ones through UAF Cooperative Extension Service. Plants differ in their preference for acid versus alkaline soil, but usually it’s good to be in the neutral range, from 6-7, or just on the side of being acidic. If you find your soil is acidic, you’ll want to add agricultural lime three weeks before you plant.

• Corinne Conlon is a freelance writer based out of Juneau. She can be reached at dirtgirlgardening@gmail.com.

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