Once that is done you move to the next row, removing 1 foot of topsoil, depositing it in the trench next to it, then loosening the subsoil with a spading fork.You repeat this process until you reach the end of the bed, at which point you use the reserved soil on the tarp to backfill the final trench. .

Tips for Growing the Perfect Vegetable Garden

If you’re like the other 21 million people in North America who will be starting a vegetable garden this year for the first time, chances are, a few time-tested tips will come in handy to ensure success.Even seasoned veterans don’t tire of being reminded of the most essential steps to a bountiful garden.A home vegetable garden is easy to start and doesn’t require as much effort as one might think to keep it growing strong.For most vegetable plants, one inch of water per week, which includes any natural rainfall, is adequate .These deliver water slowly, on target allowing roots time to absorb the moisture and soil to adequately hydrate and helps keep foliage dry.It also helps retain moisture, suppress weeds and acts as a protective barrier from diseases splashing up onto the plants from the soil.Although pests are usually a given at some point in any vegetable garden, by exercising patience, nature will usually take care of the problem.As long as you practice the steps mentioned so far, you’ve already taken adequate measures to promote the growth of healthy plants which are better able to stand up to potential pest invasions.If you put into practice what I’ve suggested above, you’ll get your garden off to the right start and set it up for a fruitful season.Preparation is key with the reward being a healthier, more productive garden and fresh food that tastes better than anything you can buy in the store. .

The Best Soil for a Raised Garden Bed: Healthy Soil Equals Healthy

This is especially advantageous for those whose property has hard-packed or clay soil, issues with tree roots, or concerns about pollutants.And since good soil is the foundation of a healthy garden, you want to make sure you’re setting your veggies up for success.When I built my raised beds, I called around and ordered what I thought would be a good-quality triple mix.In Ontario where I live, triple mix is generally top soil, compost, and peat moss or black loam.All that rich organic matter is an important component that will hold moisture and provide nutrients to your plants.Topping up your beds with compost will add nutrients back into the soil to prepare it for whatever you plant next.To maintain the health of even the best soil for a raised garden bed, adding organic matter every year is essential.I find the soil levels in my raised beds are usually lower from the weight of the snow.If you have smaller containers to fill, check out Jessica’s recipes in her DIY potting soil article.Growing cover crops is also a great way to add nutrients back into the soil. .

Best Soil for a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

Raised beds are a great option for vegetable gardens, but for the best results, you'll want to make sure you're using the best possible soil mix.Most vegetables are heavy feeders, so to grow well and produce plenty of tasty food, they need a nutrient-rich soil.Luckily, there are several options for filling your raised bed garden with the crumbly, fertile soil your plants need.Some include sulfur, manganese, iron, copper, zinc, carbon, magnesium, calcium, boron and iodine.You can purchase topsoil in a loamy mixture of clay, silt and sand by the cubic yard from a landscaping supplier.The best bagged soil for vegetable gardens won't have debris, weed seeds or other impurities.Composted manures are quality amendments that also provide good soil texture for root growth.You can also use vegetable ink newspapers and various compostable foodstuffs (no meats), such as coffee grounds, egg shells, and tea leaves.The materials you layered beneath the bagged soil will gradually decompose and break down under the heat, water and air.For example, a rainy Pacific Northwest garden will need a mix that allows for good drainage, but the same soil mixture would be inappropriate for an arid desert region. .

Raised Bed Gardening

In case you missed it: I had invited my email group to send me any questions they hoped I would answer on the topic of raised bed gardening.I received a huge response, many from folks who plan to start raised bed gardening for the first time this season.If you would like to join the conversation and contribute to future topics, click the red “Get Free Updates” button at the top of this page.It was rich with information learned through my many years of raised bed garden experience (also detailed last week) and a lot of research.Concrete blocks, for instance, are pretty unforgiving in structural soundness on uneven surfaces.The moist soil and plant material being held will put pressure on your bed side walls.Depending on bed length and the material you are using, it may be wise to add some wall support.(It helps to cut the bottom end of the 2”x4” stake into a point to make it easier to drive it into the ground).Since wood has the potential to bow or warp, note the direction of the grain at the end of each board.If you don’t use mortar to adhere your concrete blocks together, I recommend using rebar, which can be driven down through the hollow cores or using some other method of staking to better hold up to the bed pressure.The healthy raised bed soil will infiltrate and improve the health of that subsurface over time, and regardless of how high you are building, it doesn’t hurt to offer your plant’s roots the opportunity to reach down even deeper.For those of you building on hardscape or over contaminated soil, don’t feel like you are missing out on not being able to break up the surface.Additional Structure Considerations: If you are dealing with gophers or other subterranean root-chompers, these burrowing pests are best prevented during the raised bed construction phase.Consider adding a layer of chicken wire or other metal mesh to the bottom of your raised beds.Stainless steel hardware cloth reportedly lasts even longer than galvanized.Burrowing rodents are crafty creatures, so extend your mesh barrier up, alongside the sidewalls of your bed structure.Yes, this can be a lot of work, but you’ll only get one shot at this preventative measure, without having to deconstruct your raised beds down the road.Regardless of the size you are building, the depth you are creating, or the material you are using; I don’t recommend weed cloth.You might think it’s a neat and tidy improvement to place that clean, black weed cloth at the base of your garden bed.Weed mat – regardless of material – provides no benefit and will hamper drainage as the pores eventually clog.The only time I would consider an exception to this rule and risk drainage loss is when fighting Bermuda grass.Instead, the soil is the environment that promotes a healthy ecosystem below the surface – that can facilitate (or hinder) the ability for air, water and nutrients to be utilized by plants and their roots at an optimal level.A healthy soil food web is busy with billions of microscopic organisms as well as larger creatures, like earthworms, all working together.A soil food web is complex, so building that healthy ecosystem doesn’t mean a trip to the home improvement store, buying lots of bags of garden soil to fill up all your raised bed space.Over the years, I’ve developed a mixture of elements that has brought me abundant gardening success.As mentioned earlier in this series, your soil is not the area in which I recommend cutting corners cost-wise.The U.S Composting Council encourages all gardeners and growers to “strive for five.” This refers to the goal of making the organic matter in your soil 5% of the total (by weight).The rough estimate to make that 5% happen is to include organic material of about 30% by volume to the total.It should tend towards the darker side of brown vs. gray or clay in color, and it should smell earthy – not rancid.With certified compost as an ingredient, you can feel confident that the topsoil will be good quality too.30% High-Quality Homemade or Certified Compost: Use what you can make, but source the difference from a reputable supplier.Compost is fantastic (I’ve even lept into glorious piles of compost – don’t miss the end of that linked episode), but it doesn’t provide all the complex elements (like minerals) necessary for healthy, balanced soil.I shred the leaves, wet them down well and, in six months to a year, they are rotted and ready to be incorporated.Mineralized Soil Blend: Here’s another case where finding a good landscape supply company is important.Worm castings are significantly higher in all the primary nutrients your plants need to thrive.Mushrooms are grown in mixtures of natural materials like hay, gypsum, corn cobs, cottonseed hulls, etc.It contains about 3% nitrogen and potassium, a bit of phosphorus and other bonus elements, like magnesium and calcium.Although pine bark is slightly acidic, I’ve never found that to have much effect on the overall pH of my garden soil.It will break down over time, and its coarse texture provides space for the movement of water and oxygen through your garden beds.Ground bark brings a diversity of particle size that can really amp up your plant health.Composted Cow or Poultry Manure: Well-composted animal manure has been a mainstay of organic soil fertility for thousands of years because of the nutrients, organic matter and variability of particulate matter that it adds to complement overall soil make–up.Many people have poisoned their soil with killer compost (including me), by inadvertently adding herbicide–tainted ingredients usually found in horse manure.It passes through the horse’s digestive system and goes through the composting process without losing any of its killing power.The traces of herbicide (no matter how minute they may be) will kill or severely disrupt the normal growing habits of many garden edibles as effectively after being composted as the day they were manufactured.Perform this simple test before you ever let the manure come into contact with your plants, soil or compost pile.I didn’t perform a bioassay test on the horse manure from my GardenFarm, and I suffered the consequences for four years.Over time, they will break down, and the surface of your garden bed will sink, requiring you to add more soil later.Fill Dirt: This, too, might be tempting as a cost savings, but it will hinder all your other efforts to build that healthy growing environment.I’ve only recently begun adding it to my garden, so it’s too soon to give you any personal observations.It’s a pure carbon source that doesn’t break down, but it does help make existing soil nutrients available to plants.If your fire ash is all wood-based, it can be a good addition (in a small quantity) to your compost pile.Don’t use charcoal fire ash, as that can include some ingredients that aren’t good for your organic garden.As with containers, raised beds can leach nutrients more quickly; so as a final step, it’s a good idea to add some slow-release, non-synthetic, nitrogen-based fertilizer – like Milorganite – to the mix.It’s like the dash of cocoa powder on a great latte – adding a little extra kick.Building that initial raised bed garden environment with quality ingredients will provide you good results the first season.Amend your soil once or twice each year with organic nutrients (like those I described above) – not synthetic fertilizer.In early September – before I plant my winter, cool-weather crops – I topdress with an inch or two of compost.If I were to “disturb the party” by tilling in my compost, I would be doing a disservice to the existing soil food web.On the off-chance something undesirable has made its way into those mediums, compost works as a buffer to help neutralize any potential negative effect.Perhaps, you are working with existing raised beds that have been depleted and don’t have all of that microbial action going on.Instead – using a pitchfork or a broadfork, stab the garden soil deeply and wobble the fork around to create a little space around the tines.Here again, I highly recommend you start with a soil test, so you have a better understanding of what you need to “deposit” into those stale beds to get them ready to be available for “withdrawals.”.If there isn’t any debris to remove, but your bed is filled with organic soil and materials; don’t worry about amending this season.What’s more, mulch improves the soil by breaking down slowly over time and adding the resulting nutrients.A one– or two-inch layer of wheat straw, arborist wood chips, shredded bark, grass clippings, composted leaves, etc.- anything natural is okay here.Shredded leaves happen to be my favorite mulch and are just another key to the success of my or any garden.So, having a good watering system in place will make it much easier to reap abundance in the garden.Myself, I go a step further and take full advantage of some quick, easy and inexpensive tools to automate the irrigation of my beds.Depending on your set up and spacing; emitter tubing, soaker hoses or a drip system will provide the perfect moisture level.Soaker hoses are porous, allowing the water to seep out slowly along the entire length into the surrounding soil.Most soaker hoses are made that way, but I have concerns with chemicals from that recycled rubber leaching into my soil.A bonus tip: Place your soaker hose under mulch for extra water efficiency.If you’ve ever used soaker hose and had it spray up onto your plant foliage, you’ll be happy to hear that non-porous emitter tubes don’t have that problem (although if you add a layer of mulch, errant water spray won’t occur from soaker hose either).Most commonly, drip kits include a lightweight, flexible tube with an emitter at its end so that you can direct water to a certain plant or small area.The wand attachment provides a gentler spray than most other sprayers, and the extension pole makes it easier for me to get that water delivery right down at the base of the plant.Since I don’t have to stoop over to target the base, I’m able to multitask and spend watering time looking over new growth and inspecting the plants for signs of pests or disease.If that’s the case, just be sure you are watering in the early morning to decrease evaporation and allow your plant foliage the remainder of the day to dry off.There are still some questions that need answering in Part 3 of this series, so I encourage you to check back next week for all that information.Joining is easy and fast – just scroll to the top of this page, click the red “Get Free Updates” box, and enter your email address.May I suggest you listen in while you start diagramming out your raised beds and plant locations? .

Vegetable Gardening for Beginners: The Basics of Planting

This year, we’ve added a “starter” garden plan consisting of easy-to-grow vegetables, companion planting techniques, and some lovely flowers!If you’ve never tasted garden-fresh food, you will be amazed by the sweet, juicy flavors and vibrant textures.If you have rocky soil, till and remove the rocks, as they will interfere with root growth and make for weaker plants.Stable and not windy: Avoid places that receive strong winds that could knock over your young plants or keep pollinators from doing their job.For example, a garden that feeds a family of four could include: 3 hills of yellow squash; 1 mound of zucchini; 10 assorted peppers; 6 tomato plants; 12 okra plants; a 12-foot row of bush beans; 2 cucumbers on a cage; 2 eggplant; 6 basil; 1 rosemary, and a few low-growing herbs such as oregano, thyme, and marjoram.Whatever the size of your garden: Every four feet or so, make sure that you have paths that allow you to access your plants to weed and harvest.Just make sure that you can reach the center of the row or bed easily without stepping on the soil.However, it would also be wise to contact your state’s Cooperative Extension Service to find out what plants grow best in your area.For example, if you live in an area with extremely hot weather, vegetables that prefer cooler temps may struggle.Mix in flowers such as marigolds—which discourage pests, attracts pollinators, and adds some color!(Of course, you could always give excess veggies away to friends, family, or the local soup kitchen.).Also, certain veggies are so far superior when homegrown, it’s almost a shame not to consider them (we’re thinking of garden lettuce and tomatoes).Or, you could just grow cool-season crops such as lettuce, kale, peas, and root veggies during the cooler months of late spring and early fall.A few extra cents spent in spring for that year’s seeds will pay off in higher yields at harvesttime.“Cool-season” vegetables such as lettuce and brocoil and peas grow in cooler weather of early spring (and fall).“Warm-season” such as tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers aren’t planted until the soil warms up in late spring and summer.If you’re planning on growing “perennial” crops such as asparagus, rhubarb, and some herbs, provide permanent locations or beds.Consider that some crops mature quickly and have a very short harvest period (radishes, bush beans).For specific planting information, see our individual Grow Guides for over 100 popular vegetables, herbs, and fruit.For each crop, we provide specific information about how to plant, grow, and harvest, including watering and fertilizing and pest control!With this tool, draw your garden plan on the computer and drop in your preferred vegetables, and it automatically calculates the proper spacing for each type of crop!Then you can print out your plan and the tool reminds you of your seeding and harvesting dates for every vegetable!Over time, you’ll see that this tool also provides “crop rotation” so that if you plan a second season, you can properly reposition your plants to avoid pests and disease. .

Organic Garden Soil: Use Organic Compost +more

If you'd like to learn more, check out this January 2021 video interview by Garden Gate magazine.Roughly half of the soil in your garden consists of small bits of weathered rock that has gradually been broken down by the forces of wind, rain, freezing and thawing and other chemical and biological processes.The proportion of sand, silt and clay particles determines the texture of your soil and affects drainage and nutrient availability, which in turn influence how well your plants will grow.Although it only makes up a small fraction of the soil (normally 5 to 10 percent), organic matter is absolutely essential.Organic matter also retains moisture (humus holds up to 90 percent of its weight in water), and is able to absorb and store nutrients.Be cautious about incorporating large amounts of high-carbon material (straw, leaves, wood chips and sawdust).They help convert organic matter and soil minerals into the vitamins, hormones, disease-suppressing compounds and nutrients that plants need to grow.This means providing them with an abundant source of food (the carbohydrates in organic matter), oxygen (present in a well-aerated soil), and water (an adequate but not excessive amount).Fine soil particles (clay or silt) have tiny spaces between them - in some cases too small for air to penetrate.Large pore spaces allow rain and irrigation water to move down to the root zone and into the subsoil.Small pore spaces permit water to migrate back upwards through the process of capillary action.In waterlogged soils, water has completely filled the pore spaces, forcing out all the air.Organic matter also absorbs water and retains it until it is needed by plant roots.To get a rough idea, simply place some soil in the palm of your hand and wet it slightly, then run the mixture between your fingers.Screw on the lid and shake the mixture vigorously, until all the clumps of soil have dissolved.Now set the jar on a windowsill and watch as the larger particles begin to sink to the bottom.In a sandy soil, large air spaces between the sand particles allow water to drain very quickly.To improve sandy soil: Work in 3 to 4 inches of organic matter such as well-rotted manure or finished compost.Mulch around your plants with leaves, wood chips, bark, hay or straw.Once they finally dry out, they often become hard and cloddy, and the surface cracks into flat plates.Lack of pore space means that clay soils are generally low in both organic matter and microbial activity.Use permanent raised beds to improve drainage and keep foot traffic out of the growing area.Plant health suffers because the roots are unable to absorb the nutrients they require.Liberal applications of organic matter is a good idea too, because it helps to moderate pH imbalances.The most common way to raise the pH of your soil (make it less acidic) is to add powdered limestone.Wood ash will also raise the pH, and it works more quickly than limestone and contains potassium and trace elements.But if you add too much wood ash, you can drastically alter the pH and cause nutrient imbalances.In loam (good garden soil): add 7 to 8 pounds per 100 square feet.You can also incorporate naturally acidic organic materials such as conifer needles, sawdust, peat moss and oak leaves.In loam (good garden soil): add 1.5 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet.As a preventative measure, you can apply organic fertilizers that include micronutrients (such as greensand and kelp meal).If not, you will have to compare labels to find organic substitutes for the chemical fertilizers that may be suggested.In the North, gardeners usually plant them at the end of the season so their soil is not bare over the winter.Legumes, including field peas, soybeans, and alfalfa, will contribute both nitrogen and organic matter to the soil.Fast-growing grains and buckwheat produce the most organic matter and will smother competing weeds as they grow.If your soil will be fallow for more than one growing season, you can plant perennial or biennial green manures, such as clover or alfalfa.All cover crops should be tilled-in at least three weeks before the area is to be replanted, so the organic matter will already be partially decomposed at planting time.Liquid soil conditioners typically contain a blend of humic acid and catalytic enzymes, which are produced in a controlled environment by the same sort of microorganisms that are at work in your compost pile.Farmers often cope with hardpan by using a chisel plow to cut and break up this dense layer of soil.Home gardeners can break up and mix the hardpan layer by "double digging" the soil.This involves removing 10 to 12 inches of topsoil, and then working organic matter into the 12-inch layer of material that lies below.If the hardpan layer is not too deep, you can use a digging fork to puncture it and open up passages for air and water.Chelation is a process that joins a nutrient, such as iron, to a non-nutrient compound that can be easily absorbed by your plants.Seaweed contains at least sixty micronutrients, including iron, copper, zinc, boron, and manganese.When applied to plants, these growth hormones stimulate root growth, reduce transplant shock, promote more rapid fruit set, increase frost resistance and improve storage life.Research has also revealed that seaweed contains antitoxins that help plants fend off bacteria, viruses and pests.Seaweed is not a complete fertilizer because it doesn't provide adequate nitrogen and phosphorus for most plants. .

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