Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Soil 103: Starting a new garden & Adding to an existing one.

Hello Friends,

Okay, so we talked about what we should be adding to the soil to get it ready for planting, right?  So the question I get asked most often is "I have a new garden (or have never gardened before), what should I do to get it ready?"  Well, that is easy, just follow these steps:
  1. Check out the soil where you wish to plant...what does it tell you?  Dry, hard, weedy, desolate?  What color is it?  Fluffy and dark is the best, this allows for good drainage and healthy roots...does your soil match up?  99% of the time, it needs help, so keep reading.
  2. Remove debris such as rocks and weeds, then lightly rake area to rough up the surface.
  3. Amend!  Refer to the previous blog on types of amendments, but to keep it simple, make sure to add enough bagged amend to cover the area with 2" to 3" of the good stuff.  Go thick with the potting soil/planter mix...More is better here. Go more sparingly with the manure/worm castings/compost, as it is more potent.  This technique is called top-dressing and it is the best way to add new soil without breaking your back.  Just open the bag(s) and spread out with a rake.  No need to incorporate or dig in, just layer it on top.  Also, if you have clay, then you should add gypsum. This naturally occurring mineral will break up those hard to dig clay soils and let the good stuff in. 
  4. Water thoroughly....this will encourage the new soil to percolate with the existing soil.  Also, moisture will get the worms in the original soil to come visit the new stuff and that is KEY!  You could also add worms available online or at your local nursery.  The worms (and other little guys) do the work for us.  They mix and blend the top-dressed area with the existing soil and with time, the soil becomes one.  How cool is that!!  The sooner you amend the sooner the worms can get started, so get in the garden now for spring planting.  Never too early to amend!
This new raised veggie garden is filled with a combination of potting soil + planter mix + and compost.  In raised beds, it is important to add new soil with each planting, as the level of the soil will drop each season. 

Already have a garden, and just want to make it better?  Usually with an established garden,  amendments have been added over the years.  This is great, but it can always be better.  Follow this formula for success:
  1.  Get a good quality Planter Mix and spread around garden to around 1" thick.
  2. Add compost (my favorite is Malibu Compost) in a layer over the planting area.  Put enough to cover the area by around 1/4" to 1/2" inch. 
  3. Water thoroughly, and watch your plants smile!
All in all, keep in mind that you want to add lots of good stuff, but leave the work to Mother Nature to do the mixing and integrating.  Sure, you could take the time to mix it in, with shovel and spade, but in most cases, it is completely unnecessary.   Add worms if you don't feel like you have them already and remember to amend with every planting and/or beginning of each season.  Do this and you be the envy of the neighborhood with your "black gold". 

Next week will will explore the 6-week plan for getting your garden ready for Tomatomania Tomato Season! 

Happy Gardening,
A good gardener checks their soil to see what it needs.  A great garden is only as good as it's soil!

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