Garden Bed Preparation

garden shovels

Is it time to get your garden ready again? This information will help you prepare an existing garden for planting. If this is your first season and you are just starting your garden, you will want to do a soil test and amend the soil based on the results. For more information on that see the Soil Life section.

Soil Amendments

The most important thing to add to your garden each season is compost. Ideally, this is compost you made in your own bin. Home grown compost is better than compost that you purchase because it has a wider variety of decomposed material (food scraps) compared to store-bought compost (usually just cow manure.). Adding good compost to your soil adds nutrients (fertilizer), gives your soil better texture for drainage and nutrient retention, and boosts the number of micro-organisms in your soil. For more info see the Soil Life section.

You will want to add 1-3 inches of compost before each planting season depending on the quality of your existing soil. We also recommend adding these organic (made from plants, animals, and rock) soil amendments as needed: plantone, lime, blood meal, and bone meal. Each adds different nutrients to the soil. This is where soil testing comes into play for new and existing gardens. It will allows you to determine how much and of what you will need to add. Plantone is an organic fertilizer, add a little of this one if nothing else. All of these should be sprinkled on top of the already spread compost to be dug in later. The amount depends on the size of your garden. Check the chart on the bag.

Turning the Soil

After you have added your compost and other amendments on top, it’s time to turn the soil. This not only mixes all your nutrients in, it also loosens up the compacted soil making it easier for roots to grow around the soil particles. One way to achieve this is to use a tiller. There are many small tillers on the market that can even fit into small raised beds, you can also consider borrowing one from a neighbor or renting one. The advantage of using a tiller is that is it much less work and breaks up dirt clogs easily. The disadvantages are that they are expensive, you don’t get exercise, it will kill some of the worm life in your bed, and they only reach down 10 or so inches leaving the deeper soil compacted and unfriendly to deep roots.

Another way to turn your soil is a technique called double digging. You will need a shovel and a digging fork (not a pitch fork). Digging forks usually have only four very strong and thick tines that are meant for digging.

    1. Use the shovel to dig a one-foot-deep and one shovel width trench along the edge of your plot. Put the soil that you remove in a wheel barrow or on a tarp. You will add this dirt to the last trench row at the end.
    2. Drive the tines of your digging fork as deep as you can into the exposed subsoil. Rock the handle back and forth to break up the soil. Do this every foot of the length of your trench.
    3. Dig another trench next to the first, putting the removed soil from the second trench into the first trench.
    4. Repeat the fork rocking and trench digging until you finish your garden area. Add the removed soil from the first trench to the last trench you dig.

Advantages: great exercise – skip the gym for the day!, breaks up subsoil for deep root penetration, low cost, and fewer worm deaths.

Disadvantages: Dirt clods do not get finely pureed, difficult for older gardeners.

Get the kids involved!

Kids make great soil turners! Make sure their shovels are appropriate for their size and let them get to work in the sunshine!

By Henry Owen with assistance from Kathy Metzo and Carol Adams