January is another quiet month in the garden. The cold and wet mean it’s worth staying inside. But as spring, and the accompanying light and warmth, come closer, there are some things you can do to prepare!
Prepare indoor plants
It’s probably still too cold to plant outdoors, but towards the middle of the month and onward you can start out some plants indoors to jumpstart later outdoor cultivation. Some that may work with the Pacific Northwest growing cycle are onions, scallions, leeks, salad greens and peas.
Growing indoors requires some equipment to start out, but you can re-use that gear for later months and years, so consider it an investment in the future of your garden. (Having plants indoors has shown to decrease stress, so you could also consider it an investment in yourself.) Specifically, seedlings will need artificial light over the winter, like many Seattlites, as well as drainage trays and a warming mat. Make sure to also get quality starting soil as it can make all the difference.
Once you’ve filled the tray with soil, dampen the soil and sprinkle just a few seeds in each area of the tray. Cover them with a small amount of soil and then mist until damp. Mist a couple of times a day to keep the soil lightly damp, and when the seedlings sprout, keep the light on them 12-16 hours each day, two to three inches above the plants. It will be a while before you can actually plant the seedlings outside, but take care of your sprouts so they’ll be nice and strong when you release them into the garden.
Oh, and don’t forget to label each seedling so you know which is which!
Test your soil
With your garden dormant, now is a good time to test the soil and see what you’re working with. Starting with healthy soil is a great way to avoid having to rely on artificial fertilizers and other unnatural interventions.
You can purchase at-home test kits at many garden stores, including meters that you simply insert into the ground for a reading. For a more detailed analysis, you can send off a sample to a laboratory.
Washington State University has compiled links to some labs that accept samples here, alongside more information about testing. It’s recommended to collect several samples from representative spots around the garden and combine them.
To collect the samples, make a V-shaped cut around six inches deep and then remove a narrow slice, around half an inch thick, from one side. Mix together these sub-samples from around the garden to get the final sample for analysis. For information on analyzing the results, Oregon State University has a guide here. If your results are sub-optimal, don’t despair, there’s plenty that can be done to address the composition of the soil and make it ripe for growth!
As well as laboratory tests, there are some more general ones you can do at home. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, half-filling a peanut butter jar with a soil sample from six inches down can allow you to find out which materials compose your soil. Check out their instructions here.
If your soil is no good, or you just want more control over its composition, one option is to put in raised planting beds. This allows you to fill the beds with the soil of your choice and adjust the chemical balance more easily. They also look great!
If you want to find out more about adding raised beds to your garden without worrying about building them yourself, give us a call at 206-551-9872!