Spring has sprung, and if you haven’t already gotten the urge to plant your garden, it’s now or never. However, there’s a bit of housekeeping that needs to be addressed first: your garden soil. If it’s not ready, here are a few tips and tricks to prep it for planting:
Go with a Raised Bed
Maybe you live on a plot where the land was once farmed repeatedly and drained of rich nutrients. Instead of trying to do a complete overhaul of your garden area, consider hauling in new soil and compost for raised beds. These areas can be as four times more nutrient-rich than the soil below them. Plus, they make the gardening process quicker and easier to manage!
Space Your Plants Properly
While you might want to fit a certain number of plants per row, it could wind up hurting your crop if you force too many of them just for numbers’ sake. One gardener saw that adding just two inches between each of his lettuce plants gave him a higher harvest weight than the rows where he planted them closer together. You do the math!
Companion Gardening / “Three Sisters”
Grow plants that do well with and compliment one another. The “three sisters” gardening approach consists of corn, beans, and squash. Other companion plants that do well together include tomatoes/basil/onions and carrots/onions/radishes. Your soil will be richer, moister, and see a lower weed count around your plants.
Buy or Make a Compost Tumbler to Repurpose Food Waste
Daily composting can help you create homemade “feed” for your garden soil. A tumbler makes the process easier, and most people can start to see their old food products beginning to compost within about two weeks. If you’re not crafty or of the free time to build your own, you can buy an eco-friendly model and have it shipped straight to your front door.
Add Rock Phosphate
Rock phosphate is often used by master gardeners to stimulate healthy plant growth. The organic material is sometimes included in store-bought fertilizers, but is not in processed mixes. Its makeup help to slowly release nutrients into the soil, as opposed to faster and rapid saturation seen in chemical fertilizers.
Get Input from Your Agricultural / Cooperative Extension Service
Your area Ag office will be able to supply you with a soil test kit (or even a water kit) to determine what the levels of nutrients are in your specific garden soil. This can help you to better map out what to supplement, bring in, or even plant. Just take the kit home, collect your soil and bring it back to the Ag office. They’ll have the results for you within a week or two.
Use Manure Properly
Free manure is great…when you use it right. Don’t pile on too much too soon. Most experts agree that you need to let the mature “age” for a few months first. It could actually kill your produce if you use fresh manure. Even specific types of animal waste can be just as bad if you apply them directly to your plants. Cow manure is usually best, but it should still be composted to destroy any unwanted seeds.
Aerate Your Garden Soil
Aerating your garden helps to promote oxygenated, organic soil where your produce can thrive.
Broad fork techniques are easy to use, which allow you to specifically aerate and loosen the soil without disrupting or turning up too much of the soil structure. This is a common mistake that people make with a tractor-driven tiller…deeper and more soil turnover is not always better! If you are using a tiller, don’t set it too deep.