Starting Your Garden

How to Prepare Garden Soil for Planting

How do you know when you can get into your garden and start working the soil?
If the ground is still semi-frozen or soggy, digging in the soil can compact it and harm its structure. How do you tell whether it’s ready to be worked in? Grab a handful and squeeze — it should fall apart, not form a mud ball.

Dig deep.
Most plants are content with 6 to 8 inches of good ground for their roots to grow in.  If you’re planning to grow substantial root crops (potatoes, say, or carrots), go deeper still — up to a foot or more (yes, you can use a technique called hilling, where you mound up good soil around crops like potatoes, but this method doesn’t excuse your making a shallow vegetable garden).

Fill ‘er up.
Add lots and lots of organic matter! Try using compost, dehydrated cow manure, shredded leaves, well-rotted horse manure (call nearby stables), or a mixture. If your yard happens to be blessed with fertile soil, adding organic matter is less crucial, but most soils can stand the improvement. Mix it with the native soil, 50-50, or even more liberally.


What should I grow? Good choices for beginners include:

tomatoPlantTomatoes: Tomatoes are quite easy to grow. They can grow in a variety of conditions with exception of extreme cold, and they don’t require a lot of space. There are many varieties to choose from depending on individual preferences and hardiness zones. Cherry Tomatoes are easy to grow and mature quite early.

The soil should consist of organic matter, usually in the form of compost, with sufficient amounts of fertilizer and moisture. When growing tomatoes, you should start early since most take awhile to mature. If you are unfamiliar with growing tomatoes from seeds, you may want to consider purchasing the plants themselves, many of which are widely available at most garden centers and nurseries. 

Tomatoes do not thrive in cool conditions; tomatoes require an average temperature of 65 degrees F. (18 C.) or higher to ripen. Therefore, be sure to wait until any threat of frost is past before setting your plants in the garden. Tomatoes require areas with full sun and should have adequate protection from strong winds as well. To help tomato seedlings become sturdier, you can lay them on their sides and cover them with soil. Leave the tops exposed; after a couple days, the tops will straighten and begin to grow upright.  Read more at Gardening Know How

beet-400x463Beets: Many people wonder about beets and if they can grow them at home. These tasty red vegetables are easy to grow. When considering how to grow beets in the garden, remember that they do best in home gardens because they don’t require much room. Growing beets is done for both the red root and the young greens.

When thinking about how to grow beets in the garden, don’t neglect the soil. Beets do best in deep, well drained soil, but never clay, which is too heavy for large roots to grow. Clay soil should be mixed with organic matter to help soften it. Hard soil can cause the roots of the beet to be tough. Sandy soil is best. If you plant beets in the fall, use a slightly heavier soil to help protect against any early frost.

Beets can be grown all winter long in many southern states. In northern soils, beets shouldn’t be planted until the temperature of the soil is at least 40 F. (4 C.). Beets like cool weather. If you want to know when to plant beets, it’s best to plant them during cool weather. They grow well in cool temperatures in spring and fall and do poorly in hot weather.  Read more at Gardening Know How.

carrots-400x359Carrots: When you grow carrots, soil surfaces should be cleared of trash, rocks and large pieces of bark. Finer pieces of plant material can be mixed down into the soil for enrichment.  Start out with soil that will help your carrots grow. When you grow carrots, soil should be a sandy, well-drained loam. Heavy soils cause the carrots to mature slowly and the roots will end up unattractive and rough. Remember that when you grow carrots, rocky soil leads to poor quality roots.

Carrots grow best in cool temperatures like those that occur in early spring and late fall. The night temperature should be dropping to about 55 F. (13 C.) and the daytime temperatures should be averaging 75 F. (24 C.) for optimum growth. Carrots grow in small gardens and even flower beds, and can accept a little bit of shade as well.  

If your carrots are cracking, the malady is likely the result of inadequate environmental preferences; water needs to be exact. Carrot roots need moist soil, but don’t like to be waterlogged. Moisture stress not only results in cracking in carrot crops, but may also cause underdeveloped, woody, and bitter roots. The cracking of the roots occurs after a time of a lack of irrigation and then a sudden onslaught of moisture, such as a downpour after a period of drought. Read more at Gardening Know How.

lettuce-heads1-400x246Lettuce: Plant lettuce at the very beginning of spring. You don’t have to worry much about frost, but the ground must be workable. It is definitely a cool season vegetable. This means that growing lettuce can be done in early spring when temperatures are between 45 and 65 F. Lettuce prefers moist, cool conditions, and you don’t even have to worry about chilly weather because the seedlings can tolerate a light frost.

When growing lettuce, make sure your soil is loose, fertilized properly and well drained. Your soil should be moist, but not soaked. Lettuce prefers a slightly acidic soil, so some compost can be worked into the soil if need be. Again, work your soil so there are no clumps. This is important so that the seeds can get good soil to seed contact, which is vital for nutrition. Make sure your lettuce seeds are covered by ¼ to ½ inch finely worked soil.

Harvest your lettuce when the heads or leaves (depending on the variety) are full sized. As soon as you see the leaves are grown, pick them while they’re still tender. If you allow the lettuce to become too mature, you’ll end up with bitter lettuce, and that makes for a bad salad.  Read more at Gardening Know How.

cherry-belle-radish1-400x600Radishes: If you’re looking for something extremely easy to grow in the garden, then growing radishes is for you. As soon as you can work the soil in your garden in the spring, you can start growing radishes.

Make some holes in your garden soil that are about an inch deep. Plant the seeds ½ inch deep and try to keep them about an inch apart. Once the seeds have been placed in the hole, cover them lightly with the loose garden soil.  When all done, sprinkle the area lightly with water enough to settle things in, but not soaked to the point of becoming muddy. Remember to sprinkle lightly with water, as watering too hard can wash the seeds right up out of the soil they were just planted in. The radishes will germinate in anywhere from four to 10 days and be ready to harvest in 20 to 50 days depending on the type planted. Usually with radishes you can have two or three plantings and harvests during the growing season, again depending on the type planted. I have found that keeping them well watered during their growing time to harvest tends to make for a flavorful but not as hot a radish, while not keeping them well watered seems to turn up the heat, so to speak.  Read more at Gardening Know How.

zucchini-squash1-400x296Zucchini: When planting zucchini, you can plant them either as individual plants or grouped on hills. How you grow zucchini squash is up to you, based on how many zucchini plants you intend to grow and how much room you have to grow them.  After the chance of frost has passed, mound up soil about 6 – 12 inches high and 12 – 24 inches wide. On the top of the hill, in a circle, plant 4 – 5 zucchini seeds. Thin the seedlings down to 2 – 3 per hill once the seedlings have their first set of true leaves. You can also start zucchini indoors in order to get a head start on the season. Start zucchini seeds indoors 4 – 6 weeks before the last from date and plant out in the garden after all chances of frost have passed.

Once seedlings are established, mulch around the plants. Mulching helps to keep the ground temperature stable and also helps the soil retain water. These two things will help the zucchini plant have an earlier and larger crop. Make sure that your zucchini plants get at least 2 inches of water a week. If you do not receive enough rainfall to do this, supplement with manual watering. Use a soaker hose or other method to water the plants below their leaves. Watering using a sprinkler can cause the zucchini plants to develop powdery mildew.  Read more at Gardening Know How.

cucumbers-400x533Cucumbers: Cucumbers like warm, humid weather; loose, organic soil; and plenty of sunlight. Cucumbers may be planted in hills or rows about 1 inch deep and thinned as needed. Since cucumbers are a vine crop, they usually require a lot of space. In large gardens, cucumber vines may spread throughout rows; within smaller gardens, cucumbers may be trained for climbing on a fence or trellis. Training cucumbers on a fence or trellis will reduce space and lift the fruit off the soil. This method also can provide your garden with a neater appearance. The bush or compact varieties are quite suitable for growing in small spaces or even in containers.

Cucumbers are members of the Cucurbit family along with squash, pumpkins and melons. They are divided between two groups: those for pickling and slicing varieties. Both varieties may have varying degrees of cucumber prickles – so prickly cucumbers is actually quite normal. Some might have tiny little hairs and others all out spines. The slicing varieties are usually less prickly while the pickling types are spinier.  Spines on cucumbers aren’t deadly, but they would be terribly uncomfortable to eat. The good news is that you can always peel a cucumber if the cucumber prickles are on the large side.  Read more at Gardening Know How.

pole-beans1-400x600Pole Beans: Planting pole beans also ensures a longer crop period and may yield up to three times as many beans as the bush varieties. Pole beans require some training onto a pole or trellis, but this makes them easier to harvest and the graceful flowering vines add dimensional interest to the vegetable garden.  

Weather is an important consideration, when planting pole beans. Beans do not transplant well and do best when directly sown into the garden. Sow the seeds when soil temperatures are around 60 F. (16 C.), and the ambient air has warmed to at least the same temperature. Most varieties require 60 to 70 days to first harvest and are normally harvested at least five times during the growing season.

Sow the seeds 4 to 8 inches apart in rows that are 24 to 36 inches apart in rows. Push the seeds 1 inch and lightly brush soil over them. When planting them in hills, sow four to six seeds at even intervals around the hill. Water after planting until the top 2 to 3 inches of soil are damp. Germination should take place in eight to 10 days.  Read more at Gardening Know How.

Bush Beans:  Bush beans the easiest to grow, growing in the form of small, bushy plants, which are close to the ground. They need no support, require little care, and can be picked whenever you are ready to cook or freeze them. These types of beans typically produce an earlier crop; therefore, successive plantings may be necessary for a continual harvest.

When bush beans are planted in hills, they should be about an inch deep and approximately 2-3 inches apart. For rows, plant the beans at the same depth with spacing about 18-24 inches apart. Once the seedlings begin to develop true leaves, the plants can be thinned to 6 inches apart. If the area you are in stays quite humid, allow more space between the plants for better airflow.  You can expect the bush beans to germinate in about one to two weeks. If you would like a continuous harvest of bush beans through the season, plant new bush bean seeds about once every two weeks.

Once bush beans have started growing, they need little care. Make sure that they get at least 2-3 inches of water, either from rainwater or a watering system, a week. If you would like, you can add compost or fertilizer after the bush beans have sprouted, but if you started out with organic rich soil they do not need it. Read more at Gardening Know How.