Gardening can be fun. Harvesting and eating food from your own garden is a fantastic experience. Planting your vegetable garden and seeing everything die soon after…….not great. But why should this happen? Maybe you did what I did. I dug the hole, put in my seedling, and I watered regularly but my plants did not survive. What I didn’t realize is that preparing the soil for a vegetable garden is a very important requirement if we want to reap a bountiful harvest or any harvest at all for that matter.
To be able to plant and reap the benefits of your labour, your garden needs sunlight, air, water and yes, it needs good, fertile soil.
So how do you go about getting this good, fertile soil? Read on to find out.
Have you ever been asked what type of soil you have in your yard? Maybe you are well versed on types of soil and could rattle off a quick answer. However, if you are like me you probably had to scratch you head, think long and hard and after all the thinking, the only logical answer you could come up with is “dirty”.
Don’t worry. You will no longer fear that question because you are about to be an expert on soil types.
There are four basic types of soil. Actually some people might say there are three types of soil since one of the four is really just a mixture of the others. You will soon see which one it is.
The particles that make up sandy soil are large and surrounded by air spaces. This makes for very loose soil. This is not very good soil for planting as it does not retain moisture very well. Because of the open spaces that are around the particles, when you add water to this type of soil it just passes straight through very quickly washing away nutrients as it goes. This makes the soil not very fertile at all.
Silt is made up of smaller particles than sand. The small size and irregular shape of the soil particles allows for good aeration and it has better drainage than sandy soil. Because of its somewhat compactable nature, it can store plant nutrients fairly well. Overall silt is quite fertile and if you can’t get the best soil for your garden, this would definitely be a good second choice. The problem with silt is that this same compactable nature which causes it to be so fertile, can at times result in the soil holding on to water, creating a problem for the plant roots when the soil becomes too waterlogged.
The particles of clay soil are opposite to that of sandy soil. The particles are very fine and water does not pass through easily. As a matter of fact, clay soil tends to pool water because of that fact. What usually happens as well is that after wet clay is dried out in the sun, it literally bakes into a hard plate which makes it even more difficult for any water to pass through.
It is not surprising thought is it? After all, isn’t that what potters use to make their various jars and cups and plates. After he forms his big clay water jug and bakes it, you can be sure that no water will pass through. If that is the type of soil in your garden, you can therefore imagine what your plants are up against.
Loam is a mixture of clay, sand and silt and this is the soil everyone wants to have in their garden. It’s a proper healthy balance (normally equal parts) of the clay, sand, and silt and benefits from the qualities of these 3 different textures, favouring water retention, air circulation, drainage and fertility. These soils are not only fertile, but it is easy to work with and provides a good start to great harvest.
Loam is definitely the ideal soil for your vegetable garden.
Do you know how to identify your soil type?
To know what steps to take in preparing the soil, you really need to know what type of soil you are starting with.
Here is what you can do.
Add some water to the sample of soil so it is properly damp to wet. Take a handful and squeeze tightly in your fist.
Clay soil will easily make a tight, hard ball.
Loam or silt will make a loose ball which will crumble somewhat easily.
Sandy soil will not make a ball.
Another method you can use to identify your soil type is to fill a mason jar (or some other container you can cover) halfway full of the soil you are testing. Add water until the jar is ¾ full. Cover securely with the lid and shake it thoroughly so all the soil is floating around and none is stuck to the sides or bottom of the jar. Give it a good shake. Might as well exercise those muscles while you are at it. After shaking well for several minutes, let the jar sit undisturbed for a few hours. As the soil settles to the bottom of the jar, distinct layers with form. The bottom layer will be sand, the middle later will be silt, and the top layer will be clay. If you notice that these three layers are approximately the same size, then hurray for you. You have good loamy soil.
Now that you know your soil type, here are the steps you will take to prepare your soil for a successful garden
I assume that you have already identified your plot. More than likely it is hard ground and probably contains a lot of weeds. How will you get anything to grow there…apart from more weeds of course.
Well the first thing you have to do is dig up that plot and loosen the soil. If your plants have to fight their way through that hard ground, they won’t do very well at all.
Take your pitchfork…. I hope you bought one…and dig into the ground about 1 foot. Pry the soil up and turn it over so the soil becomes loosened. If you are preparing a grassy plot, after you have dug into the ground and turned the soil, the grass will be easier to come out. Just pull them out of the ground and shake off the soil from the roots. Repeat the process until the entire plot is dug and the ground is broken up and the soil loosened.
Break it up
At this point you are going have large clumps of soil and see all manner of thing you don’t want in your garden. Things like roots, stones, weeds etc. Clear them out of the garden plot. You don’t want anything impeding the roots of you lovely vegetables as they grow.
Use your fork or any other tool you wish to break up the clumps of dirt. You want the soil to be smooth and level.
Improve the drainage
What you do here will depend on what type of soil you have in your garden. If you have clay soil, you might encounter the problem of rotten roots as a result of the roots resting in water logged soil. Here is how you correct this problem and improve the drainage.
Because the clay particles are very fine and the water does not pass through it easily, you need to open up the spaces between the particles so that the flow of water will not be impeded. To do so, add some gravel to the soil and mix it together properly. You can even mix the clay with sand if you don’t have gravel. This will allow for better drainage.
If you have sandy soil, the water will pass through the soil too quickly and will not be absorbed. The soil will be void of moisture and nutrients if this happens and your plants will not do very well. To help this type of soil absorb more water, you should add some organic matter such as compost, manure, leaf mold, decayed sawdust, or wood shavings.
You can even add some clay soil, before planting as this can also help increase water retention.
Add extra nutrients
It’s time to make you soil even more fertile by amending it with organic matter.
Cover the surface of the garden plot with manure and use your fork to mix it into the soil. You might sweat a little with all this forking and turning but look at the bright side. You will be getting a good work out at the same time. Talk about killing two birds with one stone. Then again, let’s not talk about killing… Ugh!
You should be able to buy your manure at the garden store. Better yet, just go to the nearest cattle farm and you can get some for free.
After the manure is all mixed into the soil the next thing you will do is add some organic compost on top. Use a rake to level out the compost .
Finish with a generous watering of the plot.
Just remember, if you plan to do any gardening, whether you use traditional in-ground gardens, raised bed gardens, or whichever method you decide to use, preparing the soil is a very important step.
And that’s it
Your soil is now ready to receive all the vegetable seeds and seedlings that you are eagerly waiting to plant.
Happy planting and I wish for you a bountiful harvest.
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