One of the questions I’m most often asked is “what does it mean when the seed packet says to plant ‘as soon as the ground can be worked?'” It’s a simple answer that has been over complicated. Soil is always soaked here in late spring because of snow melt and rain. This simple test will tell you if the ground can be worked: pick up and handful of garden soil and squeeze it firmly. Does it form a mud ball? Or does it crumble?
You don’t ever want to plant seeds in mud. Germination rates will plummet. If you have soil that forms a crust as it dries the seeds that do germinate can get trapped under the crust. Give the soil more time to drain if it forms a mud ball.
Soil that’s ready to be worked falls apart when you let go.
Remember this: if you are sure the soil is dry enough to work but it doesn’t crumble apart when you let go, it needs a bit of work. It’s likely to be high in clay. Add some organic matter in the form of leaves, mulch or compost.
Soil temperature is also important. Spinach will germinate in soil as cold as 36°F. I like to wait until it’s 40°F for better germination but sometimes waiting an extra day or two isn’t possible. Get the seed in at optimal time even if that means it’s optimal for you and not quite so for the seeds.
What to Plant as Soon as the Ground Can be Worked
- boc choi
- Brussels sprouts
- claytonia (Miners lettuce)
I’ve written about using row covers to extend the growing season. Row covers are helpful in sowing seeds as soon as the ground can be worked. They hold in a few degrees of warmth.