February 1, 2023

How to Prepare the Garden for Planting

Spring is for planting

spring garden preparation
During spring plants revive from their long winter rest.  Spring is a great time of year.  Days are getting warmer and longer.  Birds start to chirp.  And the ground comes alive with the return of plants.  No longer are the fields brown, but they’re starting to turn green.

If you are a gardener, spring is a special time for you.  It’s time to prepare the garden.  Over the winter you most likely got plenty of seed catalogs to give you ideas to fill the garden.  You should order your seeds in plenty of time to make sure they are available.  The many varieties of seeds and plants available can be dizzying.  A good way to learn what grows well in your area is to talk to other gardeners in your area.  Most stores will also only carry plants that are appropriate for the area, so check there as well.

Prepare the garden

garden preparation
Before you plant anything the garden needs to be prepared. If this is the first year you are making a garden, you should remove the grass sod. The best way to do this will be to remove the sod in chunks and remove it from the garden area. Use it to fill in other areas of the yard or make a pile of it to compost the grass and roots. If you simply till the grass under you will spend the next several years weeding grass from the garden.

If the area has been a yard for a long time the ground is probably nearly void of any nutrition needed for garden plants. Even if you fed the yard it was probably fertilizer focused on grass, not garden plants.

Notice these two shots of the ground. The one labeled ‘Yard soil’ has newly been turned into a garden. Ten feet away from the ‘Garden Soil’, in what has been the garden for years, the soil is much richer. Notice how much darker it is? As well as the presence of worms? You can’t see them in the garden soil but there will be many more microbes present as well.

Once the grass has been removed loosen the soil.  Turn it over with a shovel or use a tiller if available.  Be sure not to over till the sill.  At first, this might seem to really loosen the soil, but the fact is, in the long run, it may even compact the soil worse.  After the first rain, the lost soil will pack back down and can become very hard.

Feed the soil

garden soil
Just because the ground has been loosened up does not mean it’s ready to plant. Some good fertilizer needs to be added to aid in garden plant growth. A local greenhouse or garden store should be able to recommend a good fertilizer. They will most likely recommend something that they can sell you, so they are probably somewhat biased.

Another option is to locate an area farmer willing to part with some of their valuable fertilizer. You guessed it: manure. Our garden soils show the benefit of many years of alpaca manure being added to the soil. When using fresh manure make sure not to plant any root crops in it as you run the risk of things like e-coli. A good way to work in manure is to only cover half of the garden with fresh manure each year and alternate where it’s put. Also, make sure the animal was not fed something like hay that may have been sprayed with a herbicide that they may pass through to the waste.

Compost also makes a wonderful addition to the garden.  Start a compost pile with the sod removed and add grass clipping and kitchen scraps to build it up.

Apply commercial fertilizer the way the manufacturer recommends. This will most likely either be surface dressing or tilling it into the soil. The manure you will want to till into the soil. This will help build up the soil.

Reduce the weeds

If you are going to have a garden, you are also going to have weeds.  Most likely the weeds will begin growing in the garden before being able to plant in the garden.  One technique to help reduce the weeds in the garden is to till them under.

Every couple weeks, until you begin planting, till the garden.  This will cut short the life of any weeds that may have already germinated and begun to grow.  It will also bring up weed seeds from below which will germinate in another couple of days.  Doing this a couple of times should help reduce the number of weeds you have to contend with throughout the gardening season.

When you are ready to plant, wait at least a couple of days after the soil is tilled.  Doing this will allow the last batch of surface weed seeds to germinate and can be weeded as you plant.  This will hopefully give your garden plants enough of a jump on the weeds that after a couple more weeding sessions the garden plants will begin to shade out the weeds.

Grow and repeat

Following these steps will help you get your garden started on the right foot.  It can take years to get the garden soil to the point where it’s very nourished and ready for growing a garden.  Don’t let this stop you though, even in the first year a small garden will produce some nice produce for you.  And I’ll bet it will taste better than store-bought produce because you grew it yourself.

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