Preparing Soil Properly

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Soil preparation for planting vegetables

There is nothing more irritating than trying to plant a backyard vegetable garden in poor soil. Vegetable gardeners across the planet can find all different types of soils, from sand to clay and everything in between, in which they are expected to grow vegetables.

Some soils are good and some soils are poor, although most are not to bad for gardening, if prepared properly, and every gardener in this world certainly has different types of soil.

No matter what type of is in soil in your garden, it can always be improved by adding organic matter. This is one of the keys to successful vegetable gardening.

If your soil is a heavy clay, adding organic matter allows for better root development and also improves aeration and drainage. A large amount of organic matter helps sandy soil hold nutrients and water.

Where is the best place to get organic matter? This fantastic compound that will improve your soil and serves as a food source for soil bacteria and fungi can be found in the form of peat moss, compost, hay, grass clippings, organic fertilizer, shredded bark and shredded papers.

Wait, What? Who would have thought that shredded papers would make a good compost? Any type of paper comes from a natural resource. It will be broken down as any other type of garden waste giving nutrients to anything you plant.

When adding organic matter to soil, and this is very important, you have to add enough to change the make up of the soil. The best way to do this is to make sure at least 1/3 of the top soil mix should be some kind of organic material. To do this spread a 2 to 4 inch layer of organic material over the garden surface and till it to a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches. As you are doing this add fertilizer at the same time and till it along with organic material.


Using a Rototiller

If you have a small garden plot using a shovel or a stiff tined fork to till the soil will work just fine. However, gardeners with a larger garden to till prefer a rototiller. If you either own or plan on renting a rototiller here are some tips on making the job easier.

Depending on the type of rototiller you have it is probably going to be easier if you leave a row untilled between passes. In other words go from row 1 to row 3 then row 5 and so on. Then just come back and do the even rows. Reasons for doing this are:

– Wide turns are easier to make with a tiller than trying to make a hard turn to the next row. Ideally tillers should pull you along at a slow pace. Simply come back to the rows you have missed once you have tilled from one side of your garden to trhe other.

– If you are tilling heavy soils or have a lot of clay or breaking up dirt clods for a new garden you can reduce the tillers’ speed so that it tills slower and it will dig better and also not lurch as much.

– If it is a new patch of ground that has never been tilled before on the first pass just till about halfway down, roughly 4 “, on the first pass. Then go over it again to the recommended depth of about 8”.

– The best time to till the soil is when it is slightly dry and easy to crumble. If you try tilling it when it is to wet it will end up leaving large clumps which will become very hard when they dry. Another disadvantage is that mud clumps clinging to tiller blades will upset their balance causing undue wear on you and the tiller.

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Seasonal Planting

There are many crops that can still be planted, but you should make plans next year to plant earlier to include cool season vegetables as well. Lettuce, radishes, carrots, beets, spinach and chards should be planted about a month before the last hard freeze date.

You can refer to the Farmers Almanac to find out the last hard freeze date for your area. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, onions and English peas are planted even earlier, as much as six to eight weeks before the average date of the last killing freeze.

The crops best suited for planting after the last freeze are beans, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, melons, corn and cucumbers. Okra and southern peas should be planted 3 to 4 weeks after the last hard freeze, once the soil is warm.

Additional Information

Watch your garden carefully for insects and diseases. There are wonderful products on the market to take care of these problems, both organic and inorganic. While I would definitely recommend the organic sometimes you might have to use the inorganic. Both perform well, although usually the organic may be slower to act. Read and follow the label directions carefully and you will get the desired results. If you have trouble identifying the pest you can always take it to a local nursery.

It is always a good idea to harvest your vegetables promptly. Letting ripe cucumbers, beans or squash stay on the vine to long greatly discourages the plants from growing more fruit.

Seed Planting Guide

Below is a general seed planting guide for Zone 8 in the United States. If you live extremely north or south of this zone yours will be somewhat different.

Asparagus ………. After February 1st

Beans, snap bush …………. March 5th thru May 1st

Beans, snap pole ……….. March 4th thru April 15th

Beans, Lima bush …….. March 15th thru April 15th

Beans, Lima pole ……… March 15th thru April 15th

Beets ……………………… February 1st thru May 15th

Broccoli …………………. February 1st thru May 15th

Brussels sprouts .. Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks

before last frost.

Cabbage ………………. February 1st thru March 1st

Cantaloupe ………………. March 15th thru April 15th

Cauliflower …………… February 1st thru March 1st

Chard, Swiss …………. February 1st thru April 20th

Collard (kale) ………… February 1st thru March 5th

Corn, sweet …………. February 25th thru April 15th

Cucumber …………………. March 5th thru April 15th

Eggplant …………………. March 15th thru April 10th

Garlic (cloves) ………………………… Early December

Kohlrabi (cabbage) .. February 1st thru March 1st

Lettuce …………………… February 1st thru April 1st

Mustard ………………….. February 1st thru April 1st

Okra …………………………….. April 1st thru July 15th

Onions (plants) …….. February 1st thru March 1st

Parsley …………………. February 1st thru March 1st

Peas, English ….. February 1st thru February 15th

Peas, Southern …………… March 25th thru Mat 1st

Pepper …………………….. March 15th thru April 10th

Potato ………………… February 15th thru March 1st

Pumpkin ………………………… April 1st thru May 1st

Radish …………………….. February 1st thru May 1st

Spinach …………… January 1st thru February 15th

Squash, Summer …………. March 5th thru May 1st

Squash, Winter …̷
0;………. March 5st thru May 1st

Sweet potato …………… March 15th thru April 10th

Tomato ……………………. March 15th thru April 10th

Turnip ……………………… February 1st thru May 1st

Watermelon …………….. March 15th thru April 15th

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To wrap it up, there are some great vegetable gardening aids on the market you might find very useful.

Roll- type mulch materials are very handy, as are the growth covers that insulate your young crops as they develop.

Drip irrigation systems is also a good idea. It makes watering your garden a whole lit easier. Especially if you are planning on spending a few days away during the hot summer months. Simple to install and set up they can even be fitted to your exact needs.

Another good idea is to plant some of your more attractive vegetables in large patio pots and you can enjoy them while they grow.

As an avid backyard gardener I would really love hearing from other gardeners from around the world. If you have a mind to please leave a comment or two below.

4 thoughts on “Preparing Soil Properly

  1. These are some great tips. My garden soil seems to hold a lot of water and becomes quite muddy and sticky in some parts.
    Are you able tell me how I am able to identify what kind of soil I have as I’m unsure whether it’s too much sand or clay?
    I really like the seed planting guide you have provided – although I’m sure it’s not for UK based seeds.

    1. The best type of soil for drainage is called loam. It is made up of 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay. Plants do need to dry out every once in a while because they use oxygen to help absorb them nutrients. Hope that helps you.

  2. Hello,
    Thanks for this helpful information. I live in North Carolina and I have garden boxes about 1 foot off the ground (5″ x 12″ long). I mostly plant tomatoes and peppers for my homemade salsa.
    I use regular dirt, then miracle grow potting soil, and natural compost from the farm. Usually my tomatoes do really good, but this year they are doing bad. The leaves are turning brown and and some have black spots. They are not producing much at all.
    Do you know of something I can try, that might help them out?
    Thanks again,
    Devara

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