Good garden soil is truly the foundation for a successful vegetable garden. Whether you are growing in pots or containers, in a raised bed, or in an in-ground garden, healthy soil is a must for growing healthy vegetable plants. What makes soil healthy? Generally vegetables need well drained soil with a good balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash along with other micronutrients and minerals. Let's take a look at a few ways we can prepare our soil for planting vegetables.
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Cold hardy vegetables can be planted as soon as your garden soil is workable. For me in zone 3, just south of Calgary, Alberta, soil tends to be workable sometime in April. Prepare your garden soil for planting once it is no longer frozen and is dry enough to have a crumbly texture.
Recipe for Garden Soil
If you are building a brand new garden, use 1/3 topsoil, 1/3 compost and 1/3 peat moss to create a loose, well drained, healthy soil base for your backyard vegetable garden. If you are growing in pots/containers, use 2/3 high quality soil mix (I like to stick with ProMix or Sunshine Mix - also labelled Sungrow. I also use this mix to start my indoor plants.) and 1/3 compost. This soil mix already contains peat moss so there is no need to add that.
Test Your Soil
I highly recommend testing your garden soil to see what the quality of your soil is. Look for a test kit that tests pH, nitrogen, phosphorus and potash levels. Testing soil each spring and fall allows you to see if the amendments you are making are improving the quality of the soil. Inexpensive test kits can be purchased at most hardware stores that carry garden supplies. Most vegetables prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH of around 6.5. Read more about amending garden soil here.
If weeds have begun to grow in your garden area, you want to remove those prior to planting.
Good compost is packed full of nutritional value for your plants. I like to add compost to my garden both in the spring and the fall. High quality compost should have gotten to a high enough heat that it no longer contains any live weed seeds. Compost contains enough nutrients for most vegetables that don't blossom to produce, no other fertilizer is needed. Fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and squash can benefit from added fertilizer.
Loosen the Soil
We like to rototill the soil in our garden each spring. (I am lucky that my hubby does this for me each year!) If that is not an option, you can use a shovel and a rake to break up soil. Loose soil allows plant and seedling roots to grow easily. This is when I work in compost along with any other amendments I am using. (I often add a bag of peat moss and bone meal for my alkaline soil containing low phosphorus.)
Rake the Soil
Go over the surface of the soil multiple times with a garden rake. Gently pull the rake over the surface bringing all the rocks, roots, debris, and lumps of soil into a corner. Remove this pile of debris from the garden leaving fine, smooth soil behind. This fine, smooth soil helps tiny seeds (such as carrot seeds) to be able to push through the top of the soil as well as send roots down into it without being hindered.
Plant Your Garden
Now it's time to plant your garden! Find out what cold hardy crops to plant early and what cold sensitive crops to wait on here.
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