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Vegetable Gardening Hints, Issue #037
March 06, 2011

Getting your garden beds ready for planting.
Good soil preparation is key to having a successful vegetable garden. Even if you have the 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 to grow well, which they pull up from the soil therefore amending your garden beds regularly is necessary for healthy plants. The three most common nutrients veggies plants need are Nitrogen for leaf growth, Phosphorus for root growth, and Potassium for healthy stems. The plants use these nutrients depleting them; they can be leached by rain or eroded by wind so it is important to add them back into your garden soil every year.

pH of your soil is another thing you want to check, 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.

Check out garden soil for more information.

Here are the steps to follow to get your garden beds ready for planting:

  1. 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.

  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 wait a week and do your test again.

  3. Break down any large clumps.
    Clumps may be left after you rototill, so break these up with a hand cultivator or garden fork.

  4. 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.

  5. Add in organic fertilizers.
    Taking 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 with help give the vegetable 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 organic garden fertilizer instead of the individual soil fertilizers.

  6. 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 any veggies other than root crops especially potatoes. If they pH is above 7 you can add in 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.

  7. 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.

Vegetable gardening books written by Catherine Abbott, Your Vegetable Gardening Helper.

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Welcome to the world of vegetable gardening!


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