Gardens require full sunlight – at least eight hours of direct sun daily – so ensure your beds are in bright spots away from any shadowy buildings or trees.
Prepare new and existing beds by amending the soil with aged compost, organic fertilizer or commercial organic planting mix. Before beginning planting vegetables in any bed, take time to test its pH; an ideal range for most vegetable cultivation would be neutral to slightly acidic.
1. Dig the Bed
No matter if you are starting from scratch or renovating an existing garden bed, loosening the soil is crucial for successful vegetable growing. Vegetable plants thrive best in loosely packed, nutrient rich soil that’s easy to dig. When left uncovered, however, bare patches become targets of weeds which quickly sprout up competing with vegetable roots for sunlight and nutrients.
As part of your initial preparations, clear away any grass or weeds from your vegetable garden beds. This involves both clearing away top growth as well as cutting through roots that might otherwise pool and erode over time, potentially killing off your crop over time. If your vegetable garden beds are located near a lot of rainwater sources, clearing away this vegetation is even more essential as rainwater may pool and erode soil over time resulting in potentially deadly soil erosion that eventually results in soil death over time.
Dig a trench across your entire bed at least 4 to 6 inches deep, using your reserved topsoil and aged compost from your initial trench to mix in. Break up any clods of soil using a spading fork; also be sure to remove any rocks you come across. If working in the fall, leave some rough surfaces; winter’s freezing/thawing will help break apart soil further.
If you have an established bed, adding a 2-inch layer of aged compost or commercial organic planting mix may be beneficial in adding organic matter and nutrients into the soil. Furthermore, this would be an opportune moment to apply balanced commercial organic fertilizer if your soil test indicates such needs.
An organic layer of lucerne hay can help create the ideal conditions for vegetable garden growth this season. Start with a large bail of lucerne hay and cut “biscuits,” or sections, large enough to cover all parts of the bed. Lay down this protective covering lightly over the soil surface using your garden fork or rake to work it in gently.
2. Add Compost
Once your soil is ready for planting, adding organic material such as compost and shredded leaves to garden beds will help recharge and retain moisture in the soil. Aim to add this material early in spring or fall so that it has time to break down before you’re ready to plant.
Other than adding organic matter, one of the best things you can do for your vegetable beds is levelling out their soil surface. A level surface ensures rainwater and irrigation water freely travel throughout, which prevents erosion while keeping nutrients where they belong.
Use a garden rake to clear away rocks, roots and debris from your vegetable gardens’ soil surface. This step is especially crucial in raised beds where seedlings could otherwise become hindered by any debris hidden underground. In addition, leaving an even surface behind will enable tiny seeds like carrot seeds to burrow deep down into it with ease, giving their roots time to spread outward into it all.
Mix 1-3 inches of aged compost into your garden soil prior to starting planting. This will restore vital nutrients back into the ground while also improving its pH balance, essential for producing nutritious crops.
Consider adding a slow-release non-synthetic fertilizer to your garden as well. Choose one with balanced levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium so as to provide your veggies with constant nourishment throughout the season. Be sure to purchase organic commercial products that clearly label themselves.
3. Rake the Bed
Once the garden soil has been properly prepared, raking must be performed to create an even surface for easy work in your garden and provide an ideal seedbed. Established beds may benefit from adding 2-inches of aged compost or commercial organic planting mix as a layer over the top and raked lightly into place using sheet mulching – best utilized during fall or winter when grass and weeds have stopped growing.
Before beginning construction of new garden beds, it is crucial to clear away all grass and weeds. A ground-level bed makes this easier; spades and garden rakes or rototillers may suffice while more challenging surfaces such as raised beds may require both tools as well as hand-held rakes for effective cleaning.
Rakes are also essential tools for leveling and spreading compost or soil amendments in garden beds evenly and without leaving behind clumps of dirt or gravel. A bed rake can be an ideal way to do this job efficiently.
When starting a spring garden, it’s essential to rake the bed prior to planting. Raking helps eliminate any weeds that have sprouted, making it easier for you to dig holes for vegetable seeds or plants. Raking is best performed during dry days so as not to spread disease spores in your garden or ruin its structure by walking across wet soil; also take note of any leftover debris such as garden labels or stakes that were left behind!
4. Add Fertilizer
A garden planting bed must contain nutrients-rich soil to support healthy, robust plants. Organic matter, compost and balanced organic fertilizers are key elements to creating such an environment; having rich soil in your bed will reduce weeds while encouraging root development, making weed control simpler overall.
No matter whether your soil is sandy, clay, or silty, mixing organic material and an appropriate organic fertilizer into it is the key to creating an ideal garden bed for planting vegetables. Doing this in fall or winter allows cold weather and snowfall to work the material into the ground more readily and ensure its full benefit is realized.
Simply squeeze a handful of soil between your fingers to test its texture; if it forms into an inflexible ball, it is too dry for work; but if it crumbles apart easily and releases an earthy scent it indicates sufficient moisture for working with.
Apply an inch of compost and aged animal manure to the bed prior to planting in it, followed by 13-13-13 or higher granular organic fertilizer purchased at your local garden center or natural store.
Noting the heavy feeder nature of certain vegetable varieties like Brassica and Nightshade varieties requires additional application of organic fertilizer during their growing seasons.
Coffee grounds can also provide an organic source of nitrogen for the soil. Either by tilling them directly into the ground or steeping them in water to create liquid fertilizer, either way will quickly provide your soil with an increase in nitrogen.
5. Water the Bed
Once your cardboard, compost and mulch have had enough time to break down, it is important to water your garden bed. Watering helps the newly added nutrient-rich soil settle in place more quickly while loosening any remaining clumps of soil. In addition, this also aids vegetable plants’ early start on growing.
If you are planting in an established garden, amend its soil by spreading a 2-inch layer of aged compost or commercial organic planting mix over the top. This technique, known as sheet composting, should ideally take place during fall or winter to allow time for decomposition over the cold months ahead. Adding organic material will improve texture so it becomes more manageable; add to that organic matter that helps make gardening easier overall!
For friable soil (meaning it crumbles when squeezed), add grass clippings, dry leaves or commercial garden compost or garden soil amendment. When moving around beds using wheelbarrow or garden cart, leave space around each bed so as to not compact the soil further.
Watering regularly is key for successful raised-bed vegetable gardens. Utilizing a moisture meter from garden supply stores will help you ensure an even, consistent level of soil moisture for your veggies. A quick way to test if the soil needs moisture is sticking your finger down into it; if it feels dry then now is the time for water. For maximum success water early morning so as not to stress out plants too quickly!