David Bernal + photo

David Bernal

Mar 16
3 min read
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Soil Preparation: Cover Crops, Worm Castings, and More!

Celebrate the late winter warmth by getting a head start on preparing your soil as we inch our way towards the first day of spring this Saturday. Daylight savings is now behind us and our days are becoming longer and finally gifting most of us with plenty of warmth and sunshine to comfortably work the soil again.

While many grow zones are about ready to sow frost hardy root vegetables and cool leafy greens, take advantage if you can of any warmth during this final week of winter to give your starts the spring they deserve. Whether you need to finish tilling in a winter cover crop or looking to fortify the garden with organic worm castings or manure, don’t miss the opportunity to get the family excited about the coming spring by spending some quality time in the dirt.

Tilling in the winter cover crop is an ideal way to invite the kids to play in the dirt while teaching that they’re actually benefiting the soil for spring and summer. It’s a wonderful opportunity and so easy to explain to kids that there are some grasses such as wheat, rye, and triticale that thrive from being dug up and buried, while the grass in the front yard is best left untouched. If you happened to sow a Cover Crop Mix last winter, then you can take the moment to teach the differences between the several different varieties sprouting in the garden.

Soil Preparation

Worm castings, or vermicast, has got to be the easiest way to get the kids to help in the garden this spring. Worm castings from red worms and wigglers are rich with organic nutrients, minerals, and microbes and the basic science behind worm castings is fascinating to many adults, let alone inquisitive children. As believable as you might think, children are really receptive to the idea that earth has thrived for millions and millions of years on worm poop, the same stuff they’re helping mix into the garden box.

Fortifying your garden now before transplanting is always recommended to help reduce the use of commercial, synthetic, and liquid fertilizers. Although many fruiting and vegetable plants will benefit from periodical feedings throughout the season, planning a cover crop or late winter composting will minimize your vegetable garden’s dependence on fertilizers and insecticides while protecting their roots from chemical burn.

Whether a sprouter, microgreener, or gardener, we wish your family a happy season and hope you make it out into the sun this weekend as we all rejoice in the first day of Spring!


Ellen Emmanuel

I sowed some organic winter wheat berries in the beds last fall. It is growing well, almost too well, since it is coming back as a weed with the peas. Oh well. I am going to cut the rest and mix it with homemade compost and shredded leaves as a mulch when it gets warmer (I learned not to mulch until the soil is really warm). But I have to say, I have never seen so many earthworms as now, I suspect it is from them eating the roots of the wheat.

Bill Taylor

Most fertilizers make plants lazy by not inviting in the microbes. Always having plants growing, no bare soil, is the best “fertilizer” because the plants will feed microbes mostly sugars from photosynthesis but other things as well, and then consume as well as feed bacteria and they and other soil life actually bring to them the minerals they need from the soil. While most soils have enough minerals for the microbes to obtain for themselves and the plants, there can be mineral deficiencies. There are so many types of soil tests, whetber for immediately available nutrients or total minerals (the ones the microbes and fungi are needed to obtain). AGAT labs in Canada or Midwest can do the latter types of tests. Best to read up on it. You can just buy fertilizer and get instant results, but the lazy plants won’t necessarily get the micronutrients they need to fend off pests and disease. Increasing organic matter (hence cover crops, mulch and compost) will get the microbes to unlock the less easily obtained micronutrients as well as macronutrients that are not soluble. Plants can even consume larger molecules which is why the microbes are important, more so than simple ions that chemical approaches to agriculture have misled us into thinking is the main deal.

Emily Cenatiempo

The cover crop mix I planted last year is growing like crazy now that the weather is warming up. The peas, vetch and radish overwintered nicely and are just starting are taking off. I’m planning on cutting my cover crop instead of tilling, and and slightly worried the grass in the mix will get established and never go away. I’ve cut some of it once and it seems to be growing back quickly. I am happy with the results so far. I planted the mix in terrible dry cracked soil and it had no problems growing. My soil isn’t “perfect” yet but I feel it’s much better off than it was last year.

Don Mesibov

What would you recommend as the best fertilizers for vegetable gardens? for flower gardens? for flowering shrubs?