How to Prepare Your Garden Soil for Planting

Yay, Spring! If you missed my last post on my plans for my garden beds this summer, check it out HERE. Before I plant anything, I want to make sure that the soil is healthy for my plants. This will help them to produce the maximum amount of food and keep them disease resistant. Here are a few steps I take before summer planting:

#1 Turn over the soil. 
One reason I like raised beds so much is that if you don’t need heavy machinery to till the soil before planting. When I prepare the garden soil for planting I like to turn the soil over to loosen it up, remove rocks, and also to search for unwanted pests. To do this, simply put in your shovel, dig in, and turn it over. Go through the entire box and dig down as deep as you can. My boxes have been there for several years, so the organic burlap that I laid on base to kill the grass the first year has now decomposed. I am able to reach down and mix in some of the Georgia red clay with the garden dirt.

Here are my 4 – 4×4 garden beds. They are about 12″ deep. I’m in the process of installing garden pavers for a path through and around them, which is why there are 4 random pavers in the middle.

#2 Check for pests. 
As I mentioned above, while you are turning over the soil look for unwanted pests. An important part of preparing your garden soil is to remove these guys. If you dig deep enough and thoroughly, you will be able to see if there are any grubs or larvae. I had a problem with tomato hornworms last year, so when going through the bed I had my tomatoes planted in I was especially vigilant for getting the hornworm larvae out. You can toss out smaller grubs and step on them. The tomato hornworm larvae are disgusting and large, so I take a shovel to them and annihilate them. I can use terms like “annihilate” with them because I hate them. Hate is such a strong word. It works here.

A tomato hornworm larva that I removed from my garden.
They are large, but blend in with the soil. If you find them, remove them and destroy them. It’s much easier to remove them as a larva then after they have changed into the green, destructive pests that will ruin your tomato plants.

#3 Rotate your crops. 
A little advanced planning will help you prepare your garden soil for the next season of planting. You don’t want to plant the same thing in the same spot two years in a row. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the pests that are attracted to particular crops will become a problem. Also, your soil will become nutrient deficient. Some plants use a lot of nitrogen and some feed the soil nitrogen. With quick and simple planning of how to rotate your crops, you will be able to make sure that your crops are actually producing food.

How I plan to rotate my crops over a 4 year period.

#4 Amend the soil.
With raised beds it is easy to forget that you aren’t replacing the soil. Instead you are amending it, adding to it. After the first year you don’t want to just dump bags of garden soil from the hardware soil into your boxes. You want to mix it with the native soil. While I am turning over the soil (see #1!) I will add a bag of compost, some bone meal, some blood meal, and some Epsom salts. If you make your own compost or buy it, 1-2 cu feet of compost per box is a good starting point. Don’t overuse the blood meal and bone meal; a little goes a long way. Blood meal and bone meal are exactly what they sound like, and what they sound like are a little disgusting. But they are good, organic options to fertilize and amend the soil. Preparing your garden soil by amending it will again keep your plants healthy, making them disease and pest resistant and yielding high crops.

Just a side note, the first year you start raised beds you’ll most likely need to fill them up with bags of soil from the store. In subsequent years you might need a bag or two to keepl the soil level up. What I recommend avoiding is completely replacing the soil each year. I don’t think it’s necessary, and it would not be cost efficient. Use these steps to amend the soil, and you won’t need to replace it.

#5 Consider cold weather crops.
Another good way to prepare the garden soil is to plant something in the cooler seasons that will replace nutrients used in the spring and summer. Kale, peas, and many other foods can be grown in the colder months. (I’m in Zone 7; things may be different in your area.)

#6 Consider helpful insects.
If I happen to be digging elsewhere in the yard and notice lots of earthworms, I will take them and put them in the garden. Worms, bees, ladybugs, praying mantis and many other types of bugs and insects are friends to your garden. Consider ways to attract beneficial visitors that will either contribute to the soil or prey on harmful pests.

I hope this is helpful! Enjoy your garden.

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