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Mary Lowther column: Time for a little garden preparation

In the meantime I sow radishes beside my peas
A re-sown flat of seeds after a mouse ate all the last ones. (Mary Lowther photo)

By Mary Lowther

When the snow melts and the days grow warmer, I do a little garden preparation. Because spinach greens and crucifers like cabbage and cauliflower grow well in cold and shade I prepare their beds by digging under the cover crop of peas and organic fertilizer at the rate of four litres per hundred square feet, letting the birds dine on the unearthed bugs and weed seeds for three weeks before I transplant seedlings. I hope this rest also allows fungi and algae to regrow into the disturbed soil to foster nutrient availability to plant roots.

In the meantime I sow radishes beside my peas, because they’re also cold hardy and will be harvested before the peas need more space. I had prepared seedlings that would have been ready to transplant into larger pots if a mouse hadn’t gotten into my seed table and eaten them all! It won’t do it again, though, thanks to a handy mousetrap we got at Home Hardware. I had to start over and sow a new flat. Once they are ready to be transplanted into larger pots of unsterilized soil (recipe follows) another batch of seeds will take their place in the seed table. In the meantime, the mousetrap remains in case Mickey had accomplices.

Monocotyledons (monocots) like onions only push up one stalk-like leaf, but most garden vegetables are cotyledons that develop two similar leaves at first, then produce their true leaves that are typical for that plant. Once cotyledons show two true leaves, I transplant them into larger pots because the food within the seed case will have run out and they’ll be needing extra nutrition available in the fresh, unsterilized potting soil. If my onion seedlings look big enough, I’ll transplant them into larger pots as well.

I fill up larger pots with this soil and make a hole in the centre of each with my finger. I use something small and flat like a nail file to dig out each tiny root, then transfer each root ball into the prepared holes in the larger pots. I water them gently, wash off muddy leaves and replace their name tags, returning the flats of new pots to the seed table. I adjust the lights to two inches above the leaves, watering with fish fertilizer from the bottom as needed, and replace the mesh screen.

They’ll be fine for a few days and then I’ll start to harden them off by taking them out of the seed table and placing them outside in the shade for a few hours around noon. Every few days I’ll increase the time they spend outside until they can be transplanted into the garden. They grow hardier and stronger when brushed so I run my hand across their tops a few times when setting them outside.

Recipe for Unsterilized Potting Soil With Nutrients:

Thoroughly blend 1 part garden soil, ½ part sifted coir or peat moss and ½ part finely screened compost. Blend 2 cups of organic fertilizer and ½ cup agricultural lime into each cubic foot of mix.

Upcoming Events: Seedy Sunday, March 19 at the Si’em Lelum Gym at 5574 River Rd., Duncan from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. $2 entry fee includes free workshops: How to save your own vegetable seeds with Carolyn Herriot (11 a.m.); Plants and prayer walk with Della Rice-Sylvester (noon), and Native pollination workshop with Sierra Stacey at 1 p.m.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.