Here’s HerbDoc with some timely thoughts on preparing the soil in your vegetable garden:
One of the most important factors in establishing a productive vegetable garden besides a sun drenched site is good soil. About 12,000 acres in Rhode Island are covered with “Narragansett silt” which supports not only oaks, white pines and American beech trees but also the agricultural community’s growing of crops.
Before a gardener takes on the amendment of the soil, s/he should have a soil test done. A quick, free pH test is available from March through October on Mondays through Thursdays (10 am to 1 pm) at the CE Center on the University of RI campus. Call for additional information – 1-800-448-1011. A more thorough test should be performed if a first time garden is being sited. Such tests are available at UMASS or UCONN as well as extension offices at universities throughout the United States, and will include valuable information such as pH, mineral content and whether the soil is contaminated with lead or other heavy metals. Following the recommendations will optimize a gardener’s crop production and will save money by minimizing inputs which are not needed. For a soil test form, log onto http://www.umass.edu/soiltest. A standard test will be sufficient for most gardeners.
Regardless of what amendments are recommended for the soil, my gardens get a yearly dose of compost either at the end of the harvest season or prior to planting in early spring. When my compost was in limited supply, I added peat moss to existing areas. Organic matter greatly improves the soil, and my goal is to allow about 50% of the total volume to be pore space. This results in a loose, crumbly soil which allows the plants to sink deep roots and aids in the retention of air, water and nutrients vital for strong growth.
As I noted in a previous post, the addition of raised beds to the vegetable garden has been a boon! The only areas receiving amendment now are the beds themselves and no tilling or heavy spading is required. Overworking the soil can itself be detrimental since it breaks down soil texture. Other positives I’ve noted:
- Beds can be put anywhere and over any type of ground;
- They drain well and don’t retain water;
- There is no compaction because I’m not walking on the beds;
- Beds warm up earlier in the spring. They tend to be 8-13 degrees above ground level temps!
- There are few if any weeds!
Although raised beds may cost more initially in lumber and bringing in soil, the results are superior with a lost less work! As an aside, I purchased several of my beds at Job Lot – a RI discount chain. At $25 each, they were a true bargain and survived the winter very well.