Nancy Brachey

Get your garden bed ready

The ups and downs of weather in February is perplexing for many Piedmont gardeners. One day it seems mild enough to start sowing lettuce seeds. The next day we are reaching for ice scrapers.

So, on the bad days, we contemplate the slow growth of house plants in winter and start to envision the beautiful gardens we will plant starting in March. But the good days are a call to action when garden prep should rise to the top of your action plan.

If you’ve not had a garden, this is the time to define and prepare a place for your spring and summer vegetables. This is – dare I say it? – a noble endeavor that should pay off handsomely in the months ahead.

For one thing, it gets you ahead of the game. And by that I mean that the space will be ready for seeds and young transplants at the earliest planting time in March. Not that you will fill the bed up with lettuce, spinach, peas and such in March, but you will have it ready as the soil warms up.

Thanks to a wet winter, the soil is soft and easy to work with a spade. But even before you think about digging, consider how much space you wish to devote to your vegetable project.

As I have said for many years, think small Succeed with a small plot then expand next year as your skill and enthusiasm grow. A small plot of about 10 by 15 feet can encompass a nice range of crops while remaining compact enough to water efficiently and tend to a high standard.

This small size will also allow you to put the soil in top condition, meaning loose, well-drained, deeply dug and rich in nutrients that will make the vegetables flourish. A traditional bed is dug into the ground about 8 inches deep, then improved with a thick layer of compost dug or tilled into the native soil.

Another technique is the raised bed, which is now so well-established many view it as traditional, too. People use all manner of things, including wooden boards, concrete blocks and stacked stones, as edgers to hold the soil and compost in place. It is also valuable when the land around it tends to stay damp.

Whether you do a raised bed or dig into the ground, the addition of compost will do wonders to improve the native soil by making it looser, richer and much easier for roots to develop robustly. Use as much as you can get this year, a 2-inch layer worked into the soil would make a good start. Next year, add more.

This is how people acquire the dark, beautiful soil that will be the start of their success at growing food.

Ask Nancy

Q. I lost some tree limbs this winter and they left jagged wood on the trunk. Should I do anything about this?

A. It would be worthwhile to have a certified arborist examine your tree and deal with any other dead wood or problems. At the same time, the arborist could use a saw to smooth off the jagged places, which would encourage healing.