Prepping your soil ensures your garden is fruitful. And the best time to start is in the fall before planting in spring. Tilling and turning the soil is crucial to the growing process. Many gardeners purchase a tiller or a cultivator to assist in the process.
Before you begin, you must wait for the soil to be dry and warm. If the soil doesn’t adhere to these conditions, you could cause more harm than good.
If you aren’t sure if the soil is dry enough, here’s an easy test: Pick up a hand full of soil and squeeze into a ball. Then poke the soil. If it falls apart, the soil is dry enough. If it stays together, the ground should not be tilled.
Testing for soil warmth is also easy. If you have a thermometer, measure the soil temperature. If it’s 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you can begin tilling and planting. If you don’t have a thermometer, stick your finger into the soil. If you’re unable to keep your fingers in the soil for a full minute, then the soil is not warm enough.
While moist soil is a plus, soil that holds excess moisture is a problem. To solve this, raise the beds 3-4-ft wide by mounding the soil and flattening the top for planting.
Drip irrigation can be added to either row or raised bed garden. Raised beds tend to be more compact and efficient for a drip system.
The next step is choosing your vegetable garden fertilizer. Fertilizing enriches the soil and creates healthier vegetables that are more resistant to diseases.
Depending on your preference, you can choose organic or inorganic fertilizer. While they contain the same nutrients, their composition is different. Organic fertilizers are made from plants and animals. The nutrients are a bit heartier and require more time to break down before they become edible. Therefore, fertilizers aren’t an instant solution to nutrient-deprived soil.
Manures are considered organic fertilizers too. They are bulkier but contain fewer nutrients than other natural fertilizers. Often, gardeners choose manure because it improves the texture of the soil by raising the level of organic matter.
Inorganic fertilizers, also known as chemical fertilizers, contain a mix of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash (potassium) expressed as a ratio of 10-10-10 or 20-20-20. The levels of ingredients vary depending on the brand but it’s important to choose one with all three major nutrients in somewhat even proportions.
Since there are several types, it’s best to read the label to ensure the fertilizer is suitable for your vegetable garden. Inorganic fertilizers usually show progress within 1-2 weeks of usage. Additionally, they are inexpensive and readily available.