garden beds

Across the northern hemisphere, millions of gardeners are digging in and getting dirty, preparing to turn out bountiful harvests with immaculately prepared garden plots. Join the crusade! Get your garden ready during the cold spring rains, and it’ll make you proud all summer long.

1. Go Deep

You eat vegetables, but what do they eat? Yep, dirt. Rich, dark, loose, friable (crumbly) dirt full of organic material. And their roots run deep. If you want a good harvest, start by making sure you’ve got beautiful beds prepared to a depth of 6 to 18 inches, depending on what you’ll grow and your soil’s natural quality.

Now you’ve got a choice: Dig or No Dig. You’ll either dig down into your existing soil to loosen it while adding moisture, fertilizer and compost; or you’ll build up, laying compost and soil on top of the ground, roof, cement or any other surface. Both ways work; I’ll be trying lasagna gardening in raised beds this year.

2. Improve the Soil

If you’re serious about getting the most out of your dirt, you’ll want to make sure it’s the best dirt it can be. For many people, that means taking a sample of your soil to a local garden center for testing. They’ll tell you how it scores on NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), acidity and minerals, and how to add anything that’s missing. For most people, you’ll also want to add organic matter like compost and manure, and possibly lighten your soil’s texture if it’s heavy in clay. Just watch out for those synthetic fertilizers. Yuck.

3. Mulch On

Variable spring temperatures can do a number on your plants, as they put out fragile new growth only to have it freeze off. Mulch protects strawberries and other early beginners by retaining moisture near the roots and protecting from winds.

That’s not all mulch does, though. A good blanket of wood chips in your garden paths can keep the weeds from gaining a foothold.

4. Chart the Waterways

Get your irrigation scheme worked out before you start planting. The best and least wasteful way to water your garden is by sinking a soaker hose a couple of inches below the surface of your garden beds. Even if you don’t use a soaker hose, you’ll want to plan a watering system that doesn’t require you visiting each plant individually every day.

That’s it! Now look at all that beautiful dirt, take a few minutes to rest, and get ready to start planting.

image: Digital Sextant

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