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Garden Soil Preparation for the Backyard Gardener
Planting a backyard garden can be a fun and rewarding experience if you approach the planning and preparations aspect of gardening in the right way – but a lack of planning and preparation can cause your hard work in the hot summer months to yield mediocre results (if any) at the end of the growing season.
Perhaps somewhere in the world, the key to successful gardening is simply dropping a handful of seeds into the ground and watching them spring up. But most garden soils require careful attention and preparation.
Choosing a Plot
A common mistake among beginning and experienced gardeners alike is to plant more than they can possibly care for. A successful vegetable garden plot does not need to be big. A small, well-tended garden will grow as much or more produce than a larger one that the owner cannot keep up with.
Backyard gardeners should choose a sunny spot where water is readily available. Most vegetables do best in full sun if possible, but at a minimum, your garden should get at least 6 hours of sun a day.
Try to select a spot with good, rich soil. Good garden soil is deep, loose, fertile, well drained, rich in organic material and has a neutral pH. The ideal garden soil composition is about 5% organic matter, 25% air, 25% water, and 45% mineral matter. If you are planting a garden in a desert area with naturally not fertile soil, plan on working to improve the soil that is there.
Prepare your soil
Although organic material is only 5% of the “ideal formula” for good growing soil, applying the right organic matter to your soil can make worlds of difference.
Nearly all soils, whether clay, sandy or humus, benefit from the addition of organic matter. Spread a layer of organic matter two to three inches thick over the soil surface and incorporate it six to eight inches deep. Organic matter breaks up clay allowing for air and water circulation, and helps hold water in sandy soils. Good sources of organic matter include straw, twigs, leaves, peat moss, sawdust, grass clippings and well-rotted manure.
Organic matter will tie up nitrogen as it decays. Add nitrogen fertilizer to the organic matter to aid in the decomposition process. This addition of nitrogen is not intended to aid future plant growth, but to act as a facilitator to help in decomposition. More nitrogen fertilizer will be required when you begin planting. You’ll want to use one pound of ammonium sulfate, or 2/3 pound of ammonium nitrate, or ½ pound of urea for each inch of organic matter placed on one hundred square feet of soil. As a word of caution, if you are using well-rotted manure for organic matter, reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer you apply by one half.
Finally, before you are ready to plant, the soil should be tilled thoroughly. Tilling breaks up hard soil and allows air to circulate around the roots of your plants. Us a tiller, shovel or fork to churn the soil at least eight inches deep. Do not try to till your soil too early in the spring before the soil has had a chance to dry out a bit. Tilling muddy soil only causes mud clods that choke tender roots of needed air and water.
Once your soil is ready, consult your local extension or the back of your seed packets for the proper time to plant your garden fruits and vegetables.
By following these simple preparatory steps before you plant, you will increase your chances of having a bountiful harvest at the end of the growing season. Good luck and happy gardening!