May News: Garden Fertility and Soil Testing

Forming Beds

   Healthy plants grow in healthy soil, one that has plenty of organic matter, microbes and a balance of the right nutrients.

  Increasing organic matter and microbial life is often achieved with the addition of compost (or manure, plant materials) to your garden soil. But how can you tell about the nutrients in the soil?  Human senses of sight, smell, taste and feel can help, but a soil test from a lab is an easy and cost effective answer. University of Vermont has an excellent Soil Testing Lab, and a garden test starts at $15. Check out their Soil Testing page for more info or download a form here.

The results will come back in a week or so, with lots of good information, including recommendations of what fertilizers would help your specific site. You can request 'organic practices' and even get results tailored to specific vegetable growing requirements!

   The pH, or measure of how acid or alkaline your soil is, should optimally be in the 6.5 -6.8 range. Nutrient availability (what is easy for plants to take up) of most all important plant nutrients is best in this pH range. Ground limestone and sulfur are two common additions to raise and lower pH, respectively.

  Three plant nutrients are needed in greater amounts, called macro nutrients. They are N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous) and K (potassium), often referred to as NPK. Micro nutrients are still important, but just needed in smaller amounts. The soil test will show what nutrients your soil has now, and what additions will improve the overall balance for best plant growth. A soil test is only as good as the sample you submit. Check out UVM’s tips for taking a soil sample to ensure your results are accurate.

   Stay tuned! Future newsletter topics will include:

  • Frost hardy and tender plants

  • How to harden off plants

  • Watering in the garden

  • Professional tips for watering your seedlings

  • Growing the best tomatoes

  • And much more!

Happy Gardening!

The Team at Cate Farm

Mid April News

Pansies in Bloom!

Pansies in Bloom!

  Spring is here! Yay! We are in full tilt greenhouse mode. Three greenhouses are filled with seedlings for our upcoming  Seedling Sale Weekends in May (now Saturdays as well as Sundays); lots of veggie starts, culinary & medicinal herbs, plus annual & perennial flowers. You can now find our seedlings at Hunger Mountain Co-op. Another greenhouse has transplanted tomatoes in the ground that are now knee high, and flowering! Three other greenhouses are full of greens like kale, cilantro, dill, arugula, and beet greens. Look for bunches of Cate Farm greens at Hunger Mt. Co-op in Montpelier starting late April.

   The fields outside are drying out and we should be able to start prepping beds and seeding gobo (Japanese burdock root) before May 1st, which is about normal for this area. The longer days and strong sunlight are noticeable, and welcome.

  Cate Farm wants gardeners everywhere to have the best garden ever- so we’re ending each Spring newsletter with a gardening tip!

Spring Gardening Tip

After a long winter, gardeners can't wait to get working on their garden. But how can you tell when the garden is ready for you? And what are the best plants for early Spring?

   Garden soil should be dried out enough before digging or tilling. Amazingly, the soil beneath our feet is about 50% air! The space between soil particles is filled with air, and varying amounts of water. Working wet soils can lead to compaction and loss of soil structure. When is it dry enough?

Here are some clues:

  • After winter, bare garden soil will develop cracks or fissures which is the first indicator the ground is drying out.

  • If soil or mud clings to your shoes when you walk in the garden, the soil is too wet to work.

  • Similarly, if you form a ball of soil in your hand and water drips from it, it is still too wet.

  When the soil is workable, it is time to plant your peas and Fava beans. Both enjoy the cooler temperatures of early Spring. Other early crops include spinach, lettuce, beets, and arugula. Check out Johnny’s Seeds Grower’s Library for more tips on specific plants.

Remember to space plants so that they are not too crowded when they reach mature size.

Happy  gardening!

The Cate Farm Team