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Plan now for spring gardening

December 30, 2008|By JEFF SEMLER

Now that Christmas has passed, many of you are ready for spring.

I don't think the weatherman will cooperate, but I have a plan for you. Pour a cup of the hot beverage of your choice and settle in with your copies of the seed catalogs that are hitting your mailbox. You will also need some paper and pencil to plan not only your order but your garden plot.

I have spoken often of local food in this space and what can be more local than growing your own food. I don't suspect anyone will grow 100 percent of their own food, but any percentage is a good start. If you have never grown a garden, start small and with some simple crops like beans and tomatoes.

Before you start listing excuses, a lasagna garden will remove many of them since it requires no tilling. While like most agricultural practices, there are few absolutes but here are the basics of making lasagna gardens according to Lasagna Gardening 101.com:

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o Don't remove the sod or do any extra work, like removing weeds or rocks.

o Mark the area for your garden using a lime or a long rope to get the desired shape.

o Cover the area you've marked with wet newspapers, overlapping the edges (five or more sheets per layer.)

o Cover the paper with one to two inches of peat moss or other organic material.

o Layer several inches of organic material on top of the peat moss.

o Continue to alternate layers of peat moss and organic material, until desired thickness is reached.

o Water until the garden is the consistency of a damp sponge.

o Plant, plant, plant and mulch, mulch, mulch.

With our current economic times, we may once again head down memory lane and take a look at victory gardens. For those like me too young to remember anything but stories about victory gardens, here are some details.

During World War I and World War II, the United States government asked its citizens to plant gardens in order to support the war effort. Millions of people planted gardens. In 1943, Americans planted more than 20 million victory gardens, and the harvest accounted for nearly a third of all the vegetables consumed in the country that year. Emphasis was placed on making gardening a family or community effort - not drudgery, but a pastime, and a national duty. As I understand, Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the White House lawn.

To give you an example of just how well this idea took off, in 1943, families bought 315,000 pressure cookers (used in the process of canning), compared to 66,000 in 1942. Even magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post and Life printed stories about victory gardens.

Working in the garden can involve the whole family from toddlers to grandparents. It has been said that you can also expand your child's diet because they will tend to eat foods they have grown even if they wouldn't have eaten them had you brought them home from the store.

If you don't have the space, try combining vegetable plants with flowers in your front yard. You can also plant containers on your porch, patio, or balcony and grow sprouts indoors. Some areas have a community garden available. Or perhaps a neighbor or friend without time or ability would let you garden their yard, in exchange for some produce.

So take some time this winter and consider gardening when the warm days of spring return. For information to help you get started, you can contact the Extension Office. We have an active group of Master Gardeners and a new class now forming.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in 4-H youth development, as well as agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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