Spring starts when seed catalogues arrive.

At least it does for me. I receive about four or five every year. This doesn’t include the online catalogues that can be accessed either.

The fun part is that they very often arrive in the same mail pouch as Christmas cards. So, after all of the hustle and bustle of Christmas, I can sit and pour over them, planning my garden for the summer.

Besides, there isn’t much else to do on the farm in January, other than daily chores and plowing snow.

I consider January as a month of being able to rest from a busy season and plan for another one. Everyone needs some time out and, for farmers, January is often when they will take it.

Even if I don’t go anywhere, I can still look at green leaves in the seed catalogues.

This year while perusing my favourite catalogue, I discovered that one of my main pea varieties was not available due to crop contamination. Now this sounds ominous, but chances are their seed plots were accidentally cross pollinated with another kind of pea. This spring they will have to start with pure seed and try again.

While this might sound like bad news at first, it did give me a chance to look around at other varieties for something that would also work. Sometimes change is good.

While planning for this spring’s seeding, I also plot out where I am going to plant. As with real estate, there is one thing to keep in mind while doing this: rotation, rotation, rotation.

Never plant the same variety – say, cabbage — in the same area of the garden year after year. Not only will this deplete the area of the very same nutrients, causing an imbalance, but it will also encourage pests to take up residence as they are able to overwinter close to their food source. Not something desirable for any gardener.

There are three basic types of garden vegetables: those that build the soil up with nitrogen, like legumes such as peas or beans; light feeders that don’t require huge amounts of nutrients, like carrots and lettuce; and heavy feeders that need a lot of nutrients, like corn and cabbage.

Rotation of these vegetables will not only keep pests and disease at bay, but also keep the soil from being depleted.

Of course, the addition of compost is also necessary for the health of the soil.

It is also good to give the soil a “rest” every so often as well. My Dad called it, summer fallow. This is where a portion is left unplanted and allowed to grow whatever comes up voluntarily … generally weeds. These would then be plowed under before they went to seed.

This not only adds nutrients back into the soil, it also cuts back on the number of weeds the following spring.

The use of green manures is very similar to summer fallowing. This is where a crop is planted but only allowed to grow for part of the summer. It is then plowed under before it sets seed.

A typical rotational cycle might be green manure/plow down; light feeding plants; legumes to fix nitrogen; heavy feeding plants and then back to a green manure.

This means that every second year, something is being added to the soil.

This doesn’t need large equipment to accomplish either. Just divide the garden into four equal areas. Use three for the season’s vegetables and the fourth for a green manure plot. Then keep them rotating in the same order.

The seed for green manures can also be found in these wonderful seed catalogues.

So enjoy the downtime if you can, it is good for everyone … including the soil.