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» Prepare the Soil

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Individuals preparing a yard for gardening the first time should begin by paying particular attention to the soil’s composition. Let’s focus on vegetable gardens. All vegetables benefit from good drainage, lots of compost (organics), and aeration. Each of these encourages worms, which also improve the soil naturally. It’s also highly recommended that you take a small soil sample for testing so you can adjust the pH and overall nutrients in the land to support vegetables in the best possible way.

Step one is simply turning/spading your soil. You want to do this when the soil has a little water but isn’t saturated – i.e. the soil doesn’t stick to the shovel but isn’t powdery either. As you till, be gentle. The soil has settled into place over the winter and with it many good insects (like worms) have also burrowed down. Good tilling begins with a coarse pass, then slowly gets finer. The last pass breaks it up into the finest possible texture (a rake helps with this greatly). Basically you want a light, fluffy soil at the top of the garden bed, with heavier pieces in the middle and rocky soil at the bottom to encourage drainage. Additionally this process helps to mix varying soil qualities. If, for example, you always grow cucumbers in the same spot, that spot will not have the same nutrients as one in which squash always grows. Mixing them together makes for a more balanced soil.

Soil Preparation
Soil Preparation

While you’re turning/spading, this is the perfect time to add whatever organics and fertilizer you’ve chosen. Note: be very careful with chemical fertilizers. If you measure them wrong, and do not allow the soil to rest before planting, you can burn seedling roots and kill seeds instead of promoting them. By the way, those of you who turned and treated the soil in fall may only need to break it up into a finer size to accept seed/seedlings. Again, this is something a soil test can determine. The rest of us, however, can add remnants from the winter fires, dry leaves, grass cuttings, vegetable ends and pieces, and even human hair to the soil. These things will decompose over the entire growing season and add nutrition back into the land. They also support the soil with “body” that deters erosion.

Finally, if you notice any sign of disease or plant deterioration, it’s worth a second soil sampling. You never know what kinds of minerals are born by rains or animals coming through your yard. Taking the time to protect your handiwork is well worth it.

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