Good preparation is the key to having a successful vegetable garden. Even if you have ideal soil that is fertile, well drained, and has good air circulation your garden beds will need some attention. This month is a great time to get started.
Vegetables need nutrients which they pull up from the soil to grow well, so regularly amending your garden beds is necessary for healthy plants. The three most common nutrients that veggie plants need are Nitrogen for leaf growth, Phosphorus for root growth, and Potassium for healthy stems. Plants use up these nutrients thereby depleting them; they can also be leached out by too much rain or eroded by wind so it is important to add them back into your garden soil every year.
Check the pH of your soil. This usually does not change drastically from year to year so knowing what the pH of your soil is will indicate what if anything needs to be added to raise or lower it each year. Most vegetable plants grow best between 6.2 and 6.9 pH. If the pH is lower than 5.5 you will want to add lime to raise the pH, if it is above 7.5 you will want to add sulfur to lower it.
Here are the steps to follow to get your garden beds ready for planting:
- Remove any grass.
This is done if you are starting a new garden site from an existing grassy area. If you have an existing garden area start with step 2.
- Plow, spade or rototill the area.
Make sure the soil is ready to work, if it is too wet or too dry you will harm the soil structure. To test the soil take a handful and squeeze it. If it stays in a ball it is too wet. If it is powdery or has hard clumps it is too dry. If it crumbles freely it is just right. Another sign is if you are turning the soil with a spade and the soil sticks to the end of the tool it is too wet to work. If the soil is too wet let it dry for a a week and then test again.
- Break down any large clumps.
Clumps may be left after you rototill, so break these up with a hand cultivator or garden fork.
- Apply manure or compost.
Add well-rotted manure or compost and dig into the top few inches of soil with a hand cultivator or rake.
- Add-in organic fertilizers.
Take the time each year to add-in organic fertilizers such as alfalfa or blood meal for nitrogen, bone meal for phosphorus, and greensand or wood ash for potassium. This will help give the plants the nutrients they need to grow well. A good rule of thumb would be to add an average of 2.5 pounds of each fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden space. You can also use an all-purpose composite organic garden fertilizer instead of the individual soil fertilizers.
- Add-in lime or sulfur.
If you have really acidic soil (pH below 5.5) add lime to the areas where you will be growing veggies other than root crops (especially potatoes). If the pH is above 7 you can add sulfur to lower the pH. It is best to lime a few weeks after you have added manure or compost to your garden soil. Use 6 lbs per 100 sq feet if clayey soil, 4 lbs per 100 sq feet if loamy soil, 2 lbs per 100 sq feet if sandy soil.
- Rake the bed.
This is done to make the bed smooth and level. Pick out any large debris or small stones. You want the soil to be the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs, especially if you are planting vegetables with fine seeds.
Once your soil preparation is complete your next step in planting a vegetable garden is selecting and planting your seeds.
Thanks to Catherine Abbott who spoke at the Sechelt Garden Club last year for permission to use information from her ezine. Check out Catherine’s book Your Vegetable Gardening Helper and her website