I am preparing to teach a class Friday and Saturday on preparing the soil for a vegetable garden and thought I would share my research here on this blog. Please feel free to leave me comments or additional advice you might have on this topic. I would love to hear another gardeners two cents worth.
Choose a location that would fit the needs of your plants. Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of full sun so pick location with plenty of sun and room to grow. Make sure your spot is near a water source since you will be watering often in the summer. Planting, watering and general care are easier if the location is level. If you need to plant on a slope run your rows across the slope, not up and down, this will keep the soil from washing away.
Clay soil drains slow, remains wet and compacted after long heavy rainy seasons. It is sticky when wet and rock hard when dry. Adding compost often helps to change the soil.
Sandy soil has large rounded particles creating large pores that allow water and nutrients to drain away quickly. Adding compost to sandy soils helps to fill holes with organic matter and keeps moisture in.
Loamy soil is the best type of soil. It drains well, but doesn’t dry out too fast. It still benefits from adding compost on a regular basis to feel the micorrhizae.
Most crops prefer rich, well drained, soil. Adding composted material such as Bumper Crop at planting time in the Spring and the Fall, working into the top 6” or so of soil helps to create an ideal growing medium. In very poor soil consider growing your veggies in raised beds and bringing in good gardening soil to fill them. Planting in raised beds also gives you the opportunity to line them with gopher wire if gophers are a problem in your area.
Hand pulling is the best way to weed. It gives the gardener exercise and gets the weeds out root and all using no toxic chemicals. If hand pulling is out of the question though, you can spray a weed killer and wait for them to die back then remove the dead weeds, do not compost them. Be sure to read the label on the weed killer to be sure how long you need to wait to plant safely. Another method for removing weeds is to put down layers of newspaper and/or cardboard in the Fall on the area you are going to plant in the Spring. You can add leaves, compost and grass clippings and let it all decompose over the winter. This method will smother weeds and grasses as it makes a nice well composted soil for planting later. Adding Bumper Crop and Blood Meal will help it decompose even faster.
Dampen soil slightly and dig with a spading fork or till to a depth of about 10”. Remove any stones, sticks or other debris and break up clods. This is best done when your soil is the texture of chocolate cake.
Spread about 3-4” of compost (such as Bumper Crop) over the planting area and add fertilizer. This is a good time to add an organic vegetable fertilizer that is rich in potassium and phosphorus and calcium for tomatoes. Place these nutrients at a depth near where the plants roots will be for the greatest benefit. Also add any amendments needed to adjust your soil Ph now if necessary. You can purchase a one time use soil ph kit to test your soil to see if this is necessary. When all material is mixed into the soil spread it evenly with a rake. Water it all in well and let it settle for a few days before planting.
Doing all of the above steps before you replant your garden beds with new crops will rejuvenate your soil and take less time and effort as your soil improves.
Adding organic matter such as compost, manure or wood products will improve and enrich all soil types and allow air and water to penetrate better making the soil more hospitable to plant roots which in turn gives you a better crop. As a rule of thumb 1 cu. yd of organic matter will cover 100 sq. feet to a depth of nearly 4 inches.
Aged or composted manure contains more plant nutrients than other soil amendments, but they do have a high concentration of soluble salts which can burn plant roots, so apply sparingly. Work into soil a month or so before planting to allow it to leach into the soil a bit.
Sawdust, wood shavings, ground bark and other wood products are useful in clay soils. However, most wood products take nitrogen from the soil as they decompose so you need to add more nitrogen when using these products.
There are naturally occurring soil organisms that colonize around the roots of plants and help them to take up nutrients and water more efficiently. You can find them in most of the organic fertilizers available today.
You could also get the same benefits from making your own compost so watch for a compost class in your community and sign up to learn more…
Life’s a garden…grow it from the ground up!