Soil Building and Management in the Vegetable Garden

So you want to start a vegetable garden?  Where to start?  You start with preparing the soil to plant.  There are three methods or techniques.  They all work.  There difference is in the time it takes to do the job.

Newspaper Beds On Lawn

If you want to set up a vegetable garden on a space now filled with turf, you can do it without having to remove the turf.  This technique is best done in the fall.  You lay out your beds and paths for the garden.  The beds should be 3 to 4 feet wide and 6 to 12 feet long.  The paths should be two feet, or at least the width of your lawn mower since it is easiest to leave the paths to grass.  Now lay 6-8 layers of wet newspaper of the area of the beds.  On top of the newspaper you will shovel 2 to 4 inches of top soil that has been mixed with some peat moss and some compost.
 Over the top soil goes 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch such as straw, chopped leaves, or shredded pine bark.  Over the winter the turf will die and decomposition will start.  By May you can set the mulch aside and plant your garden.  
Rototill and Shovel

Another technique to build a veggie patch is to remove all the sod where the garden will be located.  Put the sod in the compost pile.  Now using a heavy duty 5 hp rototiller (can be rented) till up the whole area of the garden thoroughly.  The smaller gas powered tillers may also do the job if the soil is not terribly compacted.  See Yardener's Tool Shed for a discussion and selection of small and mid-sized tillers.

Now take your stakes and string and lay out the beds and paths (same dimensions as above).  Now you take your handy shovel and place all of the top soil that is in the paths up on to the beds. When you finished you have a raised bed garden ready to plant.

Double Digging

This is the very best way to prepare the soil for a vegetable garden but it takes the most work.  Again remove the sod from the garden area.  Now take your stakes and string and lay out the beds and the paths as above.  Start at the end of the first bed and dig a ditch across the end of the bed about 6 to 8 inches wide and deep.  Place the soil you remove into a garden cart or on a tarp as you will need it later.  
Now add an inch or two of some kind of organic material into the ditch - chopped straw, chopped leaves, etc.  The take a garden fork and very thoroughly loosed that layer of sub soil at the bottom of the ditch; some of the organic matter will work its way down into the subsoil as you do this part.  

Now take a step backwards on the bed and dig another ditch across the bed putting the top soil into the first ditch.  Repeat the process over and over again until you reach the other end of bed.  You move the soil you removed from the first ditch and fill that last ditch.  You now have a bed that is loosened down more than 12 inches and has a good shot of organic matter to get the soil food web cooking.  
No More Roto-tilling

Once you have loosened the soil and added lots of organic matter to your garden soil, you should not use that roto-tiller again to prepare the soil each spring.  When you till that soil in an existing garden you are breaking up the soil's structure that for the previous year the soil food web creatures have worked so hard to create.  Why take good soil and make it bad soil right in the beginning of the growing season.  You can break up the soil with a U-bar digger or a garden fork but don't turn the soil over; just loosen it up. 

For Good Soil Amend The Garden Soil Each Year

There are two methods for improving your soil for growing any vegetable each and every year from now on:
1. In the spring when the soil is dry enough to work you can add various soil amendments that collectively will benefit your tomatoes
2. Every time you plant a tomato, or any vegetable for that matter, you can add certain amendments to benefit the growth of your tomato plants
Amend Soil In Spring Before Planting

It is easier to work with your soil if you have raised beds, especially boxed raised beds.  The procedure:
1. Loosen the soil with a U-bar Digger, spading fork, or hand grubbing tool.
2. Spread the amendments you have chosen in an even layer over the soil.
3. Work the amendments into the soil with a garden rake.

Popular and effective options to add to your garden’s soil include:

• Commercial Organic Matter - Compost/ sphagnum peat moss/ Fafard aged pine bark soil conditioner, composted manure
• Organic Matter From Kitchen - Coffee grounds/ finely crushed egg shells, blended garbage used in sheet composting.
• Mycorrhizal fungi and Bacillus subtilis bacteria or any other beneficial bacteria
• Kelp –acts as a hormone / adds micro-nutrients
• Fertilizers – Only slow release organic granular fertilizer
Amend Every Time You Plant A Seedling

If you did not attend to the soil in which you plan to grow tomatoes and other vegetables already, planting time is the perfect opportunity to improve the soil in your garden.
So, whenever you dig a hole to plant a seedling you can amend and loosen the soil either by removing the soil from the hole or just loosening the soil first before you insert your trowel. There are three amendments that we use every time we set a seedling into the garden – compost, Mychorriza, and beneficial bacteria. A tablespoon of each is sufficient.
What Does Compost Do?

Good quality compost adds humic acid and enzymes that break down minerals, also referred to as micronutrients, into a liquid form that plants can use. The humic acid in compost helps produce a gelatinous substance that binds minerals and organic material together turning chunky soil into that gorgeous soft crumbly stuff that can bring can a gardener like me to tears.
It’s also home to many beneficial organisms that become part of the soil food web, the underground community that returns Natures detritus to the soil. Without this incredible underground food chain man would have been buried in his own trash eons ago.
What Are Mychorriza?

Because I want to get the most out of my garden I also add  Mychorriza, a beneficial fungi that attaches itself to the roots of a plant and helps it get moisture and nutrients from the soil.  I use the product Thrive for this job.  I drench the soil with Thrive.
Mycorrhizal fungi have occurred naturally in the soil for 400 million years. They form a close symbiotic relationship with plant roots. They are called mycorrhizae (from the Greek “mukés”, meaning fungus, and “rhiza,” meaning roots).
However, in most soils that have been disturbed by residential construction, or intensive cropping practices with applications of fertilizers containing pesticides and other chemical products, the mycorrhizae content has considerably diminished, and has become insufficient to significantly enhance plant growth.
When mycorrhizal fungi colonize the plant’s root system, they create a network that increases the plant’s capacity to absorb more water and nutrients such as phosphorus, copper and zinc. This process in turn enhances growth and favors rapid development of roots and plants.
What Are Beneficial Microbes?

To increase the beneficial microbe count I also mix in a teaspoon of microbial material in the form of Plant Growth Activator from Organica.  Organica Plant Growth Activator is specifically formulated to promote the establishment and enhance the viability of annuals, bulbs, perennials and turf.
This unique natural product contain beneficial soil microorganisms and natural plant extracts that function synergistically to improve soil biology and promote healthy plant growth. Promoting and maintaining healthy soil biology is the key to successful gardening at any level.

There are lots of products on the market today that contain these beneficial organisms, so we need to spend some time in our local garden centers checking out what’s new

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