The Roundup -

By Tim Fine 

Gardening Begins With Knowing When & Where

 


When it comes to preparing an area for a vegetable garden there is one point that I cannot stress enough and that is to do whatever you possibly can do to limit the amount of “damage” to the soil. By damage, I am referring to soil compaction, breaking soil structure, robbing the soil of nutrients, and things like that. I know how anxious some people get when it finally warms up and conditions are starting to be right for working in the soil but sometimes waiting an extra day or two to let the soil dry out some or warm up a little pays off tremendously in the long run.

In terms of getting a garden site ready to go, there are generally two scenarios that a person is dealing with. You are either preparing an area that has been gardened before, or you are looking at installing a new garden in the yard and may have an idea of where it will be located or you may not. I am going to direct this information towards those of you who fall into the second category, although there should be some tips and tricks that, if you have a previously established garden area, you will be able to use as well.

As with real estate, the three most important things to consider when planning a garden are location, location, location. If you have a particular spot that seems to be more fertile, receives a good portion of sunlight in a day (8-10 hours of full sun is preferred), and is near a water source, this is probably the spot where you want to seriously consider putting your garden. If this spot is currently covered with grass, you will want to first kill the grass. A product like Roundup works fine for this, but read the label and make sure that there is enough time between when you spray the grass and when you want to begin planting your vegetables. You can try simply tilling the grass under and not spraying but chances are you will be fighting grass invading your garden all summer long.

In regards to how fertile the soil is where you are going to start tilling, it may be a good idea to have a soil test done after you get the grass out of the way. However, depending on how busy the lab is, you may be running short on time to get the results back and may have to carry on without doing it this year.

So, now that you have all of the sighting and planning done, you are now ready to begin tilling. I will stress again that, if the soil is not fit to be tilled, stay out of it. Trying to do some tillage in soils that are still too wet and too cold can cause compaction and/or really mess up the structure of the soil and those issues are difficult to correct. So, if you start to till and there are large chunks of wet soil sticking to the tines on your tiller or if you have issues pushing it through the mud, then park it for another couple of days and try again. You may feel that this is delaying your planting too much but if you try and put plants into soil that has been worked when it was too wet, you are setting yourself up for failure. Unless you have been getting some moisture that the rest of us have not, this is probably not a concern this spring.

After you have tilled the area and created a nice seedbed, your garden should be ready for planting. I would not suggest adding any amendments, such as manure or compost, at this time as those are typically better applied in the fall. The problem with applying them now is that they may not be completely broken down and, especially in the case of manure that comes from animals bedded with wood shavings, can ultimately lead to mineral deficiencies.

The last tip that I would give in garden preparation is to decide now exactly what it is you want to plant. After deciding, look at how much space plants are going to need in a garden. I used to help with an exercise where we would take old newspapers and cut out the area that particular plants will need. Then take these “newspaper plants” out to the garden and lay them out and see if the garden is big enough for the plants that are intended to go in there. This is a good time to decide what plants go where as well. You do not want to end up with your larger plants (corn, tomatoes, peppers) shading out the smaller ones (carrots, lettuce, spinach) so try to keep those taller specimens to the north of the garden.

Although these recommendations are made specifically for vegetable gardens, many of them also apply to landscaping beds as well. By no means is this a complete and exhaustive list of how a garden should be prepared and in no way does following these steps guarantee success. Hopefully though, by going through these steps, you will be off to a good start. It would help tremendously if Mother Nature would cooperate in getting our soils ready to be worked with.

 

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