A Primer on Gardening: Soil Preparation

By now, you’re likely good and ready to break out the seeds or starter plants and start putting things in the ground. I get it; it’s exciting. The prospect of growing your own green beans and tomatoes is thrilling. But don’t let the excitement overwhelm your good sense. Before you even thinking about planting anything, you need to get your garden soil ready to go.

Why Prepare Your Garden Soil Before Planting?
If you want to ensure the maximum yield from your garden, starting with healthy, nutrient rich soil is the first logical step. You’ll want to verify your soil retains moisture well, isn’t compacted, and maintains the proper pH and minerals necessary for plant growth. Failure to do so means and underperforming garden, or even a failing one.

Weed
Before you do anything else, you want to make sure to get rid of any weeds that might be growing in your future garden bed. Those weeds are potential competitors for your garden’s limited resources, so eliminate them with extreme prejudice.
 
If this is a new garden odds are you’ll be working with a lot of weeds or possibly even grass. The easiest way to eliminate that is it turn the soil over with a shovel, with the weeds on the bottom. Do this early enough and those weeds will die and help add nutrients to the soil.

Test and Treat the Soil
In order to prepare your soil, you’re going to need to understand what it needs. To do that, you’ll need to do a little testing. You have a couple of options when it comes to soil testing. First, the US Department of Agriculture offers soil testing through its Extension program. Second, you can purchase a soil testing kit from your local hardware store. Both options will provide levels of pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
 
Regardless of which option you choose, follow the instructions provided in the test results to modify your soil. For instance, if the testing reveals that you have a nitrogen deficiency, you can correct this by adding a chemical fertilizer that is rich in the chemical, or by adding composted manure to the soil.
 
Drainage and water retention is another factor to consider when testing and amending your soil. Ideally, you want a good mix of sand, loam, and clay. Too much of any one of these will negatively impact how your garden retains water. For example, too much sand will make the water drain too quickly, while too much clay will not allow for enough drainage.

Turn and Mix the Soil
Once your garden is complete free of weeds, it’s time to start turning the soil. If you’re luck enough to have a rototiller, this will be fairly easy, but hand turning a small garden isn’t too much work. Essentially, you’ll want to chop up the dirt and thoroughly mix it. This will help loosen the soil and mix in whatever nutrients you added in in the previous step.
 
Once the soil has been well mixed, rake it level, and call it a day. We’re ready to plant now!

-Dave

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