Let’s hope that the real cold weather is behind us by April 1, but don’t count on it. Some of you remember the frosty white, 18 degree morning on Easter, April 8, 2008. Remember that our average last spring frost occurs about April 10. If you not yet started, you can still plant all of the spring crops in April. There is also still time to start new beds. One of the first decisions is whether or not to use raised beds.
Raised beds have some real advantages. They are better aerated, they drain better after heavy rains, and warm up faster in the spring. I recommend using 4-foot wide beds, double-dug, with a 2-foot pathway. Coupled with close-spacing, raised beds can make more efficient use of your garden area.
Raised beds are also appropriate if you bring in soil for your stoney site. In either case, you do not need side boards for your beds
(unless the site is on a steep slope.) Raised beds or not, you next need to decide on your method of tilling.
Tillage. After double-digging, and adding a one-inch layer of compost and appropriate minerals (based on a soil test), many gardeners think that the tiller is the next tool to use. It is not necessary to use a tiller and it can be easily argued that it does not fit in the “going sustainable” model. A tiller can actually destroy good soil structure, especially in working heavy soils. In these soils, tilling can decrease the soil water holding capacity. A garden fork is all you need to gently twist-in fertilizers and compost. Using a tiller is somewhat of a guy thing -- a show of macho power and control.
The first question concerning tilling is often, “then how do I control weeds?” Its simple -- mulch and cover crops will take care of most weeds. The photo shows the dense crop of Austrian winter peas and oats, and how it can suppress any weeds. The next question is, “But how do I loosen the soil?” That is primarily the work of of the soil organisms,