12 April 2012

Garden Soil Preparation

Spring is here and it’s about time to prepare the soil bed for your gardens.   Remember, you don’t have to have a garden so big that you cannot take care of it all.  You can actually be more productive in a smaller, more manageable sized garden. 

Begin first by planning out your space.  Select a spot in the garden that gets a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight if you are planning a vegetable garden.  If you are planning for flowers, know the amounts of sunlight your gardens will be receiving, as well as soil type and drainage and choose the types of plants accordingly.   Next, mark out your perimeter and then begin turning the soil over.  Dig down at least 12 inches.  Using a roto-tiller is best as it will break up the soil more thoroughly and deeply.  If you don’t own one, you can usually rent one at a local hardware store.   If one is not available, you can use a shovel and rake. 

As you are preparing the beds, work in dried compost and organic matter to enrich your beds.  It is usually best to allow organic matter to decay for a period of time.  If using manure, allow it to decay until it turns dark brown in color and has no odor.  Nutrients found in manure are generally readily available, but if overused, can provide excessive amounts of some nutrients.  A good example of this would be ammonia.  Excessive amounts of ammonia can burn your plants and while fresh manure is great for heavy feeding crops such as corn, it may not be best suited for use on crops such as greens.  Also with fresh manure is the possibility of crop contamination.  If you are planting greens or root crops, then you’ll want to compost the manure for about three months prior to spreading to avoid the possibility of contamination. 

It’s always a good idea to have your soil tested too.  A soil test will tell you what fertilizers your soil will need as well as the texture of the soil.  Testing is usually available through your local cooperative extension office.  It will also tell you the pH of the soil, which ideally should be 6.0 – 8.4, depending on the plants you will be growing.  The extension service can provide you with the necessary information to amend and improve your soil bed.

As for fertilizer, there are three main elements that you will see concentrations for on the fertilizer bag. Those are N-P-K, or Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium, respectively and the numbers (i.e. 15-15-15) tell what percentages those macronutrients are in.  Nitrogen is mainly responsible for vegetative plant growth and strong roots, phosphorous for root expansion and flowering, and potassium for metabolism, leaf expansion and the quality and size of the fruit or vegetative parts of the plants that are harvested. Potassium is also responsible for the intensity and development of pigments and color in flowers.

Paying attention to soil preparation is the key in having a great garden.  Tending to your garden regularly by providing fertilizer and pulling weeds as necessary will ensure you have a healthy, productive garden all season long!


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