Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Soil Preparation: Getting Those Gardens Ready

Its spring and we all know what the means; it’s almost time for us to plant our vegetable gardens here in Maine. But before we head outside to sow our seeds, there are a few things we need to do.

Have you ever heard the term soil amendment? Basically, this term means to change the soil by adding to it and making it suitable for the types of vegetables you want to grow.

Amending the soil in your garden in pretty easy. The first thing I do is take a look at it. What color is it? Pick up a few handfuls of soil and run it through your fingers. What’s the texture like?

Now, you can go out and buy one of those soil test kits to check the pH balance and other nutrients if you want. I’ve never used one and frankly have gotten along just fine without one. By the way, I don’t buy expensive fertilizers either but we’ll get into that a little later in the post.

Steps to Prepare Garden Soil

1. Pick out large rocks and other debris
2. Amend soil - (add organic fertilizer)
3. Till soil - This step mixes fertilizer into soil & loosens it for better root establishment
4. Level soil - Use the back side of a metal rake
5. Prepare rows/mounds for planting

How to Amend Garden Soil

Maine has rocky soil. If you’ve ever put in a new lawn, garden bed, or field for that matter, you’ve probably noticed. Thanks to the movement of glaciers through our great state many years ago, there are rocks and depressions of all sizes everywhere. This can be a pain when starting a new garden, but it doesn’t mean we can’t prepare a nutrient rich garden bed with a little work.

The best soil for gardens is loam. Loam is abundant in Maine. There are plenty of general contractors and construction companies that will be happy to sell you loam by the truckload or bucket load depending on how much you need.

I use loam mixed with cow manure in my garden and it works wonders. My brother has cows and is more than happy to bring me a load of manure. I never put fresh manure in my garden - only year old manure. Fresh manure can burn the roots of some plants.

With that being said, I have a special section of the garden reserved for my root vegetables. Root vegetables like carrots and radishes grow best in sandy soil. Sandy soil makes it easier for the roots of the plants to push through the soil and grow.

To amend the soil, layer organic compost or fertilizer a few inches thick over the garden bed and then till the soil to mix it in. Once the tilling is done, level the garden bed by using the backside of a metal rake.

Prepare Rows and Mounds

Knowing which types of vegetables you’ll be planting, how many, and where they are going to go ahead of time makes preparing a garden bed much easier. Before your seeds and transplants are ready to go into the ground, form mounds and rows according to seed packet and transplanting instructions. This saves time and energy when planting.     

Taking the time to prepare a garden bed a week or two before planting, in my opinion, makes getting the garden off to a good start easier. It’s less overwhelming, easier on the back, and is a great time saver.

What will you be doing to prepare your organic vegetable garden this spring?

Image: Image: Keattikorn /

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