Snow buried soil sleeping in February is best time to prepare micronutrients underground

Cover crops and flowers help soil salinity; a little frost makes cold-weather crops taste better

By Gregory Jackson

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Once the snow and ice melt it’s time to prepare you soil.  Groundz recently wrote about the affects of road salting and sodium chloride concentrate in soil.

You could try leaching the salt from your soil by rinsing fresh water over the ground.

“Agretti is a non-native type that takes up salt and Mesymbryanthemum (Iceplant) is another,” said Randel of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.  “But if there is sufficient non-saline water available, leaching the salt away is faster and probably more dependable.”

Baker Creek, one of Groundz organic seed partners for donating seeds to urban farmers, donors, and customers, is well respected for their heirloom non-genetically modified seed sourcing.  When Jere and Emilee Gettle founded Baker Creek seed 18 years ago, they did not know that 2 million organic and heirloom seed packets would be sold per year.  Mr. Gettle joined Seed Savers Exchange in 1996 to learn and share the importance of organic farming.

In fact, Seed Savers Exchange, who supplies our heirloom and non-genetically modified seed source believes in provenance.

“We believe it is important to document the cultural, historic and culinary provenance of our collection so that we pass on seed to the next generation the stories behind the seeds will be passed along as well,” writes John Torgrimson, executive director of Seed Savers Exchange.

High Mowing Organic Seeds, recommended to us by the Non-GMO Project, had similar views about soil preparation.

“There are quite a few salt-tolerant plants out there but most of them actually move salt down below the root zone, and don’t take it up into their roots and stems.” said Sophia Bielenberg, marketing content specialist at High Mowing Seeds.  “Some good examples of these are barley, sunflower, safflower, and canola.”

Barley is a type of cover crop.  Cover crops are strictly used to prepare soils by building up micronutrients into the soil.  For instance, barley would be grown in your garden and between four to six weeks prior to first planting you would dig/till them into the soil.

Barley is one of Gettle’s favorite cover crops, too.

“There are many different types of cover crops that people use for this purpose,” writes Gettle in his book Heirloom Life Gardener.  “But I particularly like rye, barley, and vetch.  Cover crops are planted in late fall or early winter, in advance of when the official planting season begins, to optimize productivity in the soil.”

If cover crops are too tall to dig and chop into the soil, you can mow it first, and then turn into the soil.  You can then dig food trimmings about four to six inches into the soil, if you are six to eight weeks before first seeding and planting.  If fact, Groundz dug food trimmings directly into all our beds to help us manage all of our leaves, we dug four to six inches to place food trimmings into trough, covered them with leaves, then soil.  We must not have dug deep enough, as we were visited by an opossum last fall.  If you are not able to enrich your soil six to eight weeks out, you could add finished compost and start planting immediately, accept if you believe your soil has experienced rock salt road runoff.  There are also plants that can help prevent the spread of salt.

“Beans will perform very poorly if planted in saline soils,” said Bielenberg.  “They are unlikely to survive at all.  Your best options for remediating soil are orach, barley, safflower, sunflower, or canola.  Triticale and Alfalfa are high water-use crops that can be planted as a barrier to help prevent salty water from entering an area.”

Once the soil thaws we will be planting our 2015 cold-weather crops, root vegetables and leafy foods like to be planted early spring for better taste, just add a little bit of frost.

“In general, root vegetables and leafy crops should be planted before the weather heats up, because their flavor is enhanced by a little frost,” writes Gettle.  “Peas and fava beans are other good cold-hardy crops to consider around this time.”

If food crops taste better, then there also more nutritious.  These cold weather crops love a little bit of frost; it makes them taste more leafy and crunchy.

Cold-weather crops that we will plant include spinach, lettuce, and snow peas (four to six weeks before last frost).  Two weeks later, broccoli and carrots will be planted.

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