The dirt on soil:
Early spring is the most exciting time of the year for gardeners. Garden centers and nurseries are brimming with plants, seeds that you started at home are developing and ready to be transplanted outside, all opportunities lay before you! It’s easy to focus on what you want to grow above the surface rather than what lies beneath it. Try to remember that the health of your soil is the most important factor in determining the success of your garden. Don’t expect vital growth to come out of dead soil. Healthy soil is living soil brimming with beneficial insects and microorganisms. Keep them happy and they will be your most valuable teammates in the garden.
Selecting the planting area:
No amount of care and attention will help a plant thrive that is planted in the wrong conditions. The three things you should consider when scouting out a potential planting area are the soil type, the amount of sunlight it receives, and its exposure (is it insulated behind a structure or other plants or is it wide open to the wind and cold).
Plants, bulbs and seeds will come labeled as full sun, partial sun, or shade plants. These labels refer to specific advice:
Full sun: at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day
Partial sun: 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight per day
Shade: fewer than 3 hours of direct sunlight per day
A majority of garden vegetables do best in full sun so keep this in mind if you are planning a new garden or installing raised beds.
Soil type refers to the composition of your soil. All soil is a combination of the clay, silt and sand. These terms refer to the size of the particles within the soil (listed here from smallest to largest. There are plants that are adapted to grow in every type of soil. However, most common garden plants, especially commonly grown vegetables, do best in a “loam” soil which is a blend of these three components. Adding organic material to your soil, by digging it into your soil or as an annual layer of mulch, will improve the quality of any soil type.
Creating a garden bed from scratch or reviving dead soil:
After finding the perfect location it’s finally time to really get your blood flowing and make a serious impact on your garden.
The process is essentially the same if you are creating a brand new bed or reviving a long neglected one.
Three steps to a great start for your plants:
- If you are creating a new bed, first mark out the desired shape and size of the bed with twine or a garden hose. Use a sharp spade to create a well defined edge. The soil in the garden bed should slope down to a sharp vertical edge.
- Remove all existing vegetation . If you are creating a new bed this will likely be a more intensive task. If you are removing sod, the best tool for the job is a flat shovel. If you are revamping a neglected bed and there are plants that you want to keep, consider temporarily transplanting them into pots so that you can, this will make the next step much easier and your plants will thank you for it in the long run.
- It’s time to “dig” and “amend” your soil. The objective here is to aerate the soil, break up any clumps, remove any remaining debris and improve the composition of the soil by mixing in organic material and fertilizers. At the end of this process, you should have a … Here are some tips.
- Renting or borrowing a gas or electric tiller could be a good idea if you have a large area. If you are preparing a smaller bed, get out a sharp spade.
- Choose a day where the soil is neither excessively dry nor wet.
- Using the spade or tiller turn the soil over to a depth of about 12 inches. If drainage is an issue, you may want to digg your soil to a depth of about 24 inches through a process called double digging.
- The results of your soil test will tell you exactly how much of what nutrients you should add back to your soil.
- It is almost never a bad idea to add organic material into your soil. Compost or well rotted manure will improve both the structure and the nutrient composition of your soil. Turn in three inches of material (or more if your soil composition is particularly poor) to a depth of 8-12 inches.
At the end of this process, you should have healthy soil that is easy to plant and will support the health of your plants for the season to come.
Sending your soil to a lab to be tested may seem like a pain but try to avoid the temptation to skip this step. A soil test will tell you exactly what nutrients your soil is lacking and help you avoid adding too much of a good thing. Not only is this a waste, but excessive levels of essential nutrients can actually harm your plants and run off to contaminate your local water supply. The results of your soil test will come with recommendations for additives. If you want to grow organically (and we recommend that you do) be sure that the recommendations meet organic growing guidelines.
Maintaining your garden beds:
Conventional advice will tell you that you need to dig your garden bed every year. However, a growing number of gardeners are opting for a “no-dig” method. Followers of this garden philosophy point to the negative effects annual digging can have on the health of your soil. Counter-intuitively, annual efforts to fluff up your soil will actually compact it over a number of years. Instead of mixing amendments in, no-dig gardeners maintain the health of their soil by adding layers. Whatever methods work best for you, make it a habit to replenish your soil each spring