By Jose German
For Montclair Local
Jose German is a New Jersey environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition, a nonprofit environmental organization.
It looks like Spring is finally here! While the mind turns to the garden, a frost is still possible, but with a little care you can have some fresh garden vegetables by late April.
Before planting, it is time to clear your garden beds and add up to an inch of compost to the surface of your soil. To raise nitrogen levels, you might mix in manure, available in many garden centers in case you don’t have your own livestock. Composted chicken manure and rabbit manure work well; even uncomposted rabbit manure is safe to use. Never use cat or dog manure, which can transmit harmful parasites. A safe measure is two pounds of manure for a 3’X5’ raised bed. Remember to mix your compost and manure evenly with your soil.
If starting your garden from seeds, try to avoid genetically modified seeds. Heirloom seeds are best since they are not GMO and produce varieties of vegetables that may be hard to find commercially.
Peas do well in cool weather and have the added benefit of fixing nitrogen in the soil. They can be planted as soon as the soil has thawed, but April is not too late. Varieties like snow and sugar snap peas are best since they are very productive and easy to harvest. To plant peas, using your fingers make a hole in the soil about one inch deep for each seed. Plant peas about two inches apart. Taller varieties will need a trellis to climb.
Other good choices for April are lettuce and arugula. Using your fingers, make slight indentations to form as many bands as you want to plant the seeds. After spreading the seeds roughly, a half inch apart, cover them with a very thin layer of soil and keep them moist until germination, usually in about a week. For lettuce and arugula, you might want to plant a new crop every two weeks or so during the spring for a continuous supply. Keep in mind that when you plant your garden you are also planning your future meals.