Jealous of your neighbors’ vegetable garden? Well, this year there is no need to be! Here are a few easy tips on preparing your soil for a nutritious and luscious veggie garden.
Your garden needs the right soil to grow nutritious vegetables. Only a few gardeners are blessed with naturally occurring soil, known as loam. With patience and a little help, you can slowly transform your soil into loam. Intentionally preparing your soil guarantees a future healthy garden.
Food is only as healthy as the soil it grows in. The issue is, most of us do not have access to the perfect soil at home. The good news is there are many ways we can improve our soil!
Stake an Area for Your Vegetable Garden
One of the first things to decide is what size you would like your vegetable garden to be. 100 square feet is a good start. It really depends on each individuals’ preference and needs. Vegetables need 6-8 hours of full sunlight to grow properly. Look for an area in your yard that is exposed to full sunlight for this time. Once you have staked out an area for your vegetable garden, we can start looking into the soil.
What Type of Soil Do I Have?
There are mainly 3 types of soil:
- clay soil is composed of tiny particles that stick together quite easily. It does not drain well, so if your ground tends to create puddles of water rather than soak it in, and your soil sticks to your shoes like glue, you most likely have clay soil. As a result of its texture, it is difficult for plants to root. Clay soil is not optimal for gardening.
- sandy soil has the opposite problems to clay soil. It consists of large particles and, therefore, has very low water and nutrient content. Dampen the soil and roll it into a sausage shape in your hand. If you have sandy soil, it will crumble apart rapidly.
- loam soil is an ideal gardening soil. It is the result when you combine clay, sand, and silt. Loam is crumbly and full of organic matter. Its texture enables it to drain well but still retain moisture. Loam soil is what we are working toward.
Irrespective of the current nature of your soil, it can all be amended to produce great results!
Get Your Soil Tested
Testing your soil means that you are going to determine the pH level and the nutrient content. Too much and too little of a nutrient both lead to problems. Just as humans need a balance of nutrients for optimal health, so do plants. If your soil’s pH level isn’t suitable, plants are unable to absorb nutrients.
Methods to test your soil:
- Use a DIY kit: A basic DIY test can provide you the pH level of your soil and the major nutrient content in your soil like potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), phosphorus (P), and sulfur (S) readings. This will help you determine what nutrients need to be added to your soil. The ratio between Ca and Mg has the greatest impact on the availability of other trace elements in the soil. As a rule of thumb, we are looking for a 60 to 70% Ca and between 15 and 20% Mg. At these levels, many of the other issues will take care of themselves.
- Have your soil tested in a lab: A soil lab will thoroughly analyze your soil, providing a detailed description of your soil’s nutrient content. They may even determine the exact type of minerals to add to bring your soil into balance.
Follow these steps to prepare a soil sample:
- Fill a cup-sized container with the top 4 to 6 inches of your vegetable soil and place the soil in a bag.
- Do the above for every 100 ft2.
- Mix all your samples, and place two cups of the combined soil into a bag. This is your soil sample which you can test or send to a lab.
How to Change the pH of Your Soil
The PH reading of your soil is another important aspect to consider when preparing your soil. Soil with a pH reading below 7 is acidic, and a pH reading above 7 is alkaline. Improving your soil to have a pH between 6.0 and 7.5 will ensure an optimal level for most vegetables. If you are unsure of your soil pH, you can use commercial pH test trips to find out.
To increase your soil pH:
- Consider increasing the pH by adding a base substance. If your Mg is more than 15% use agricultural lime or gypsum; if Mg is lower than 10%, rather use dolomite. Add about a cup of lime per 3ft2 to the soil about three months before planting. This will ensure enough time for pH to change.
- Add wood ashes. Ash adds a whole bunch of micronutrients to the soil, like calcium, phosphate, potassium, and boron.
To decrease your soil pH:
- Add Sulphur to gradually increase your soil’s acidity.
- Elemental Sulphur is a compound that will immediately decrease your soil pH.
- Adding organic materials like compost, manure, or sawdust to your soil will also lower the pH of your soil.
Compost is a MUST! Spread 2 inches of compost over your intended vegetable garden. If it is a new garden, then dig the compost into the soil and mix well. Always add compost to the surface of an established garden, so you don’t disturb the microbial balance.
Compost immediately introduces microorganisms to your soil that break down organic matter and continuously improve your soil. Compost prevents erosion by loosening soil particles, and it increases the soil’s water holding capacity.
As compost breaks down, it slowly releases a bunch of plant-available micro-nutrients to your plants. Compost adds organic matter and increases the carbon in the soil, which greatly increases the water retention ability and tends towards an ideal range for nutrient absorption. It also attracts sowbugs, earthworms, and redworms.
Mulch the soil surface
Mulch is used to keep the soil cool, retain moisture, improve soil drainage, suppress weeds, and increase soil’s nutrient-holding capacity.
Types of Organic Mulch
|Shredded Leaves||Some may find leaves displeasing to the eye.||Attract earthworms. Decompose quickly.|
|Straw||Decomposes slowly.||Popular for vegetable gardens. Attracts beneficial insects.|
|Bark||Bark doesn’t mix well into the soil.||The bark lasts longer than fine mulches.|
|Grass Clippings||Tend to mat down, making it difficult for water to pass through.||Decompose rapidly. Source of Nitrogen.|
|Newspaper||Could contain artificial dyes. May easily blow away.||Excellent moisture retention. Suppresses weeds.|
Add Aged Manure
Seasoned gardeners refer to well-aged manure as black gold. Adding manure is one of the best ways to make ideal garden soil. It improves the texture and the water-holding capacity of the soil. It also provides several nutrients. Work the manure into the topsoil at least 30 days before planting. Use about 10-100lbs per 100 square feet. Even better is to put manure through a compost heap. Raising the temperature will kill most seeds in manure.
Tilling with worms
No-dig and no-till gardening is quickly becoming more popular. The more we disrupt our soil through tilling, the more we continue to disrupt and damage the ecosystem of our soil. The natural ecosystem is what makes nutrient-rich soil. Roughly add two inches of organic matter to your garden soil and leave the rest to the earthworms. While tilling the soil, earthworms provide hummus and a whole lot of nutrients to your soil.
Don’t overthink it, just start. With a little bit of planning and a lot of care, you will be sure to have a vegetable garden that brings you more satisfaction than you imagined!