Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Garden Preparation

It's that time of the year again! Pre-Spring and time to start thinking about and preparing your garden space.

First, select a sunny location that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.
Second, be sure that area has a source of water nearby.

Then, it's time to prepare your space! Remove all large weeds, sod/grass, and large rocks from the garden area. Test your soil to determine it's pH content, salt concentration, and nutrient needs. Some County extension offices will run the tests, private testers are available in many areas, or you can buy an "at home" tester and do it yourself.

If you have sandy soil, it warms early in the Spring, allows a lot of drainage, and doesn't compact. Unfortunately, it also doesn't hold the necessary water and nutrients around the root zone.

If you have clay soil, it readily holds moisture, locks out air to the roots and is dense. Because of it's properties, the roots have difficulty growing very deeply, producing a smaller product.

If you have loam soil, it contains equal portions of sand, silt, and clay. It holds moisture and nutrients around the root zone and drains well to deliver oxygen to the roots.

To determine what type of soil you have, turn over a shovel full of dirt. If a handful can be squeezed and it doesn't stick together, it is sandy. If the handful forms a sticky ball that doesn't easily come apart, then you got clay. If the handful forms a ball that crumbles easily and isn't sticky, then loam is your soil. Of course, you can have a combination soil too so don't rule that out.

Soil should be 5% organic matter. Straw, twigs, leaves, peat moss, sawdust, grass clippings, manure are a few examples. Spread the organic matter 2 - 3" thick over the area and then incorporate it 6 - 8" deep.

Do NOT add sand to clay soil in an effort to improve drainage - the two mix and form a low grade cement instead!

Do NOT at peat moss to clay soil - they both hold water and you will end up with too much water.

Add nitrogen fertilizer to the organic matter to aid in the decomposing process. You will add more fertilizer later on also.

If your soil is acidic, add lime, gypsum or dolomite per the package directions.

If your soil is alkaline, add iron sulfate or ground sulphur. Iron sulfate will change the pH quicker, but also breaks down quicker. Ground sulphur will stay in the ground for years.

When your soil is dry enough, it's time to start tilling it. Take a handful of soil from about 3 - 4" down and compress it into a ball. Drop it on a hard surface and if it shatters, the soil can be worked. Till as deeply as possible to break up the soil. Try not to go the same depth each year or you run the risk of creating a "hardpan layer" just below the tilling depth. This layer, or floor, is where water accumulates and cannot soak through. Plants don't grow well unless this "floor" is broken through.

Next: Compost and Mulch


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