By Gary Pahl
The calendar dictates when we can and should start planting outdoors. Now is the time when we can start planting our cool season crops outdoors such as potatoes, radishes, carrots, turnips and cole crops. We have been anxiously waiting for the soil temperatures to get above 45 degrees and the longer days to promote field activity. If we are planting any transplants that we have started this past month, we still want to leave them in the greenhouse and harden them off slowly by placing them outside during the day and bringing them in during the cool night time temperatures. We cannot allow these plants to freeze regardless of the type of plant because they have not yet become accustomed to the colder temperatures.
The most important step to ensuring a productive garden is to monitor the pH in the soil. The pH scale goes from 0 to 14 with pH 7 as the neutral point. It is important to keep the pH in your garden in the range of 6-7. The pH affects the plant health and the nutrient availability entering the plant. Remember the pH scale is on a log scale and the difference from a 6 to 7 is 10 times! By maintaining soil pH in the proper range we can focus on balancing nutrient supplies with crop demand.
Three nutrients are managed the most: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K). The key is to use the right blend of fertilizer, at the right time, for the plant to have it available to take up the nutrients necessary to keep it healthy. This cannot happen if your pH is off in the soil, thus creating a chemical imbalance within the plant. The easiest way of reaching a neutral 7 on our pH scale if it is too low would be to add lime, this helps bring the pH up. If your soils are in the alkaline range, above 7, you should add gypsum or elemental sulfur. For a more organic approach, composting is a great tool. This process will take much longer but you achieve the same results if you are consistent. It will raise and keep your soil at a neutral base. If you need to lower your pH in an organic setting, use pine needles and bark mixed into your soil. The acidity in the needles will help lower your pH over time.
Good luck this coming year in the garden! Remember, if you start out in the right direction it is tough to get lost.