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Soil Preparation For a Productive Garden - Best Practices

Apr 15, 2008
Soil preparation is step one in getting your garden ready for cultivation and if possible should be done in the fall. This will give the soil time over the winter to enrich itself after you have dressed and tilled it. Excellent results can still be achieved if this timetable is not feasible, so this timing is not absolutely critical.

If your garden plot is fairly large, it would be advisable to rent or borrow a rotary tiller if you do not own one. Loosen the soil thoroughly and pick out the sticks, stones, rocks and any other debris. Remove any existing sod and vegetation, shake out the dirt and place the waste sod or vegetation into your compost pile. You do not have a compost pile? Give thought to building or buying one. You will be doing you and your garden a huge favor.

This is also an excellent time to test your soil for its PH value. Vegetables normally do well in a slightly acidic soil condition. Check with your local extension service for more advice on this subject. Soil testing kits which are readily available and are quite inexpensive will give excellent results. Mulch with a dusting of lime or fertilizer, 2 or 3 in. of manure, and any organic materials such as leaves, peat moss, straw, hay, grass clippings etc. and till in to a depth of 8 to 10 inches The decomposition of these organic materials over the winter, will add valuable nutrients to your garden. After this is done, plant with a cover crop of something like hairy vetch or winter rye which will create an environmentally friendly green manure as well as discourage weed growth and erosion.

Now you have all winter to read the seed catalogs and look forward to spring.

In spring as soon as it is dry enough, mow the cover crop and till it in to a depth 6 to 8 inches. Retest the soil for the soil PH values because some leeching may occur over the winter; and the PH level may have to be adjusted.

Try not to till your soil when it is too wet. If the soil is sticking to the tiller or any other tools it is too wet to work. A shiny surface on the turned earth is another indication of a dangerously wet soil condition. Why is this important? When the soil dries it will create hard rock-like clumps, which are extremely difficult to return to a friable state and to work into good loam.

A word of caution, do not over till the soil because it will become too fine and will not hold oxygen, water or nutrients. If the soil does become overworked, more organic material will have to be worked into it. You are now just about ready to plant. Rake the plot to even the surface and work in some fertilizer or compost shortly before you seed or set plants.
About the Author
Dick Murray is a retired urbanite who keeps his passion for gardening alive with pots of herbs on the window sills and the creation of
web site dedicated to vegetable gardening
basics. It is not the same as digging in the soil, but it works for him.
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