Soil Preparation for the Vegetable Garden

    • It is time to mulch your fruit trees and flower beds to retain moisture in the soil. Xerimulch will do an excellent job at a reasonable price.
    • When you plant your tomatoes, put a handful of bone meal in the bottom of the hole to help prevent blossom end rot on the fruit later on.
    • “Topsy Turvy”®Tomato and Pepper Planters are a fun and convenient way to enjoy these popular vegetables hanging right outside your kitchen door.
    • Hang up Codling moth traps now to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year. Replace pheromone lures in old traps.
    • Gladiolus make wonderful cut flowers throughout the summer. Plant some every two weeks for continuous blooms.

Soil Preparation for the Vegetable Garden

Soil is truly the foundation of the garden. Without good soil, plants become stunted and stressed and prone to insect attacks. But good soil, loose and humusy, with good fertility, allows the roots of plants to penetrate easily and take up the nutrients they need throughout the growing season.

First determine what type of soil you have. Soil texture is determined by particle size, which ranges from microscopic clay flakes to more rounded silt particles to sand grains. While undisturbed sandy soils are well aerated and well drained, they are nutrient poor, since sand and silt cannot hold nutrients. In contrast, clay soils hold nutrients very well but have poor drainage and aeration. Thus a soil with both sandy and clay characteristics should be optimal for plant root health.

However, unless a huge amount of sand is added to clay soil, it will not improve the soil texture. The pore spaces in a clay soil are very small and when sand is added, the large pore spaces of the sand are filled with the smaller clay particles. The result is a heavier, denser soil with less pore space than either the sand or the clay soil alone.

It is important not to turn clay soil when it is still wet. It will form large clumps that dry hard and solid and do not allow roots to penetrate. It may take a week of sunshine before wet soil is ready to turn. When it has dried out sufficiently to break apart when you turn a spade of soil, it is ready to be worked.

Using organic matter is the best way to improve soil. Compost, manures, leaf mold, sawdust, and organic amendments increase the water-holding capacity, aeration, and drainage of both sandy and clay soils. These materials are decomposed by soil organisms releasing nutrients that become available to the plants.

To add organic matter to a new bed, first turn the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches then spread a 2-inch layer of decomposed material over the soil and turn it in. If you use fresh manure or sawdust, it will take nitrogen from the soil for its own decomposition.

If you want to “double-dig” the bed, do that next. This method, taken from the “French intensive” gardening method, will yield the most produce in the least area. Then add organic nutrients in small amounts to enrich the top layer of soil. (see “How to Grow More Vegetables” by John Jeavons)

If your soil has been worked before and is pretty good, only add a one-inch layer of compost to replace the nutrients you took away in the form of vegetables the preceding year. Too much compost can encourage an increase in symphylans, microscopic creatures which eat plant roots, and result in considerable crop damage.

Soil in good tilth is well aerated, retains moisture and is rich in humus. Good soil is the beginning of great things in the garden.

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