Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Choosing a Site, Building Raised Beds, & Preparing your Soil


Planting at the right time, allows you to feed you family consistently throughout the garden season.
 
Preparing beds in the fall means you are ready to plant when soil temps warm up.


Fall is a great time of year to work in the garden.  Each season I will give you a list of garden preparations.  Why start now?  Being prepared spreads the cost out, spreads the work load out over seasons, and your soil will be prepared and ready to plant when the time is right.  You will be ready to produce food for your family and produce for your pantry.



 

For the first time gardener:

First:  Choose your garden site
Second:  Build your raised bed box
Third:  Prepare your soil


For an existing garden:

First:  Clean out your existing garden
Second:  Build raised bed boxes
Third:  Prepare your soil


#1 The Garden Site

For the First Time Gardener 

 Choose your garden site

  • Gardens do best when they get 6-8 hours of sunlight.  Late afternoon shade is fine.  
  • Consider a site with protection from the wind
  • You need easy access to water in the garden
  • Choose a site close to your house with easy access.  Nobody likes to hike to the garden.
  • Avoid micro climates... planting in a hole where cold air sinks or where too much reflective sunlight exists from a fence, windows, or nearby structures
  • Avoid any area with heavy clay or poor water drainage which is a sign of clay
  • If deer or rabbits are a problem in your area consider a fence
  • Pick a place where you can visually see your garden from the house and will be able to enjoy it
  • Since you just might love gardening, choose an area that can be expanded

For an existing garden:

Clean out your existing garden:

  • Fall clean up is very important.  Pests and disease overwinter in debris
  • Remove all spent plants and debris.  It's very important to get diseased plants out of the garden and in the garbage not the compost pile
  • Add 1 - 2 inches of compost to to top of your bed.  If you haven't been doing this then work it into the bed with a shovel; otherwise, just add it on the top
  • Smooth out the bed and it's ready to plant in early spring
  • If you have organic material like plant matter, dried corn stalks, or leaves start a compost pile.  Mix equal part brown and green material.  Wet it until it feels like a damp sponge.  Turn the pile every couple of weeks to keep it decomposing aerobically.  Make your pile 4x4x4 feet.
  • Drain water from existing water systems
  • Organize all your garden supplies 

#2 The Raised Bed

 Building a raised bed box

  • 4'x8' is a good size for a raised bed.  They can be any length but the width should be no wider than 4 feet.  You need to be able to access the box from the side without stepping into the box.
  • I like to use 10" or 12" high boxes.  You can build the boxes taller but you need to be able to fill the box with good soil and it will require more soil amendments.  Taller boxes are easier on the back.
  • To build one bed that is 4'x8', buy three 2x12x8's.  Tow boards are the sides and one board cut in half will provide the two sides
  • Use screws to join the sides together
  • Build the box away from the garden so you can prepare the site for the box
  • There are fancy raised bed plans online.  When your garden is mature, your plants will be the focus not the box.  I think if you have limited funds use whatever lumber you have available and put your money into building your soil.

 Preparing to Install the Raised Bed

  • Be sure to think about the layout of your garden.  You will be so excited about the success of your garden box next year you will want to add more.
  • Be sure to allow wide enough paths between the boxes to get a wheel barrow around
  • Rototill the ground where you are going to put the box
  • If you have a broad fork which has 18 inch tines you can use that instead of a rototiller
  • A shovel also works to turn the ground over and loosen the soil.  Compacted soil is an enemy to good, healthy gardens
  • Remember do NOT put your garden in an area of heavy clay
  • Remove a rocks.  The roots will go very deep in the ground
  • Level the ground and place your box on top
  • Do not put a cover on the bottom.  Trust me you'll regret it.  It inhibits root growth.  It's better to have a gopher hole you can put a trap in than a hole down under the box that you can't get to.

Raised Bed Rule:  When you are done, do NOT walk on your beds!


Chinese Cabbage from an early spring planting

 

#3  Preparing your soil

Building healthy soil is what makes organic gardening successful!

The study of soil is fascinating.  When you hold a handful of healthy soil, you are holding a microscopic world teeming with life.  Healthy soil is composed of air water, minerals, organic matter, and microbes.  All of these elements are essential to fertile, healthy soil.  Isn't that fascinating?


Air

  • Creates pore space
  • Roots require oxygen

Water

  • Needed to transport nutrients
  • Transpiration

Minerals

  • Gives soil its texture 
  • Does not determine soil fertility

Microbes and Soil Life

  •  Decomposers
  • Holds nutrients in the soil
  • Makes nutrients available to plants
  • Builds soil structure

Organic Matter

  • Builds soil structure
  • Increases water holding capacity
  • Adds nutrients
  • Increases microbe activity

We are now going to turn ordinary dirt into extraordinary garden soil! 

 

Preparing the Soil

Evaluate the texture of your soil.  Is it mostly sand, silt, or clay?  Sandy loam is the ideal garden soil.

If you have more than 40% clay or sand it will behave like clay or sand.  Huge amounts of amendments would be required to change the texture.

If the soil is adequate, then fill the box about 1/2 full

If your soil has too much clay I STRONGLY suggest you find and bring in a better soil.  You will not have very good results and gardening will be a huge frustration in clay.

Add 2 bags of compost.  I like Nutri-mulch which is composted turkey manure.  

Add a bag of peat moss

Be careful with bulk manures and composts.  Sometimes they are very high in salts.

Incorporate the compost and peat moss into the box with a shovel.  Level it. Water the bed.

Congratulations! You are now prepared for spring with a box all ready to plant in.

Compost nothing else no added fertilizers or other amendments.


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