Amending Garden Soil
It's planting weekend! As many of you head out to the garden beds this Mother's Day, one thing to consider is the soil you are planting your precious veggie babies into. Plants need a mix of different factors to thrive. To set myself up for success, I take a couple things into consideration as a prepare my garden beds for planting: the soil pH, adding compost and top soil, and fertilizing with a balanced fertilizer. I will break down the importance of each, and how I go about adding these to my beds.
A note on fall garden prep
One thing I do in the fall is amend my gardens with compost and fresh top soil. It takes 3-5 months for compost to actually release it's nutrients to your plants. By doing this in the fall, it gives the soil time to release nutrients so it is ready to go when I plant in the spring. I then add a layer of mower mulched leaves. This keeps the soil protected from harsh winter conditions and adds additional decomposing matter to the soil.
Now that it is spring, I first remove the leaves from my garden beds, leaving any leaves that are starting to decompose to add to the organic matter in the soil.
This year is my first time testing the pH of my garden soil. This should typically be done in the fall, as amending it will take 3-4 months to take effect, but never hurts to do it in the spring. Soil pH is important as the acidity of the soil will help your plants take in nutrients. If the acidity of your soil is drastically off, no matter how much compost or fertilizer you add, the plants won't take in the nutrients. Most garden vegetables like a pH between 6.2-6.9. For reference, a 4.0 on the pH scale would be highly acidic, 6.0 is neutral soil, and 10.0 would be highly basic. For testing your soil at home, you can use a pH testing kit, or a digital test. I preferred to use the digital test, as I only have to purchase it once and can use it season after season. These tests are not completely accurate, they will give you a good range, but not a accurate reading. To get the most accurate reading, you can send your soil into a lab to be tested. I am thinking of doing this in the fall and will report back!
* If this is the first season you are planting your garden and are filling your beds with brand new purchased dirt and compost, skip this step this season. I am into my third season in this bed, that is the main reason I am testing pH, and I am sure by now it is way off. If you are planting into the ground in your area, it would be a good idea to test, to learn more about the make up of the soil in your area.
Adding Peat Moss
This season I tested both my garden beds, and the reading was around 7.5. This is not the end of the world, but I needed to add soil amendments to bring up the soil acidity. This is actually pretty normal for the Midwest, as our soil is naturally high in limestone, which is naturally more basic. To increase the acidity of the soil, one of the best things to add to a garden is Sphagnum Peat Moss. Peat moss not only helps increase acidity but also adds loam to your soil. Loam helps keep soil light and fluffy, making it easier for roots to grow. Loam is especially important for root vegetables that develop underground and need loose light soil to size up.
Compost and Top Soil
So in addition to 1 package of peat moss, I add 3 bags of compost manure mix, and 3 bags of top soil. This will be different for each garden bed, but I have found that adding the same amount of compost manure blend and top soil works best for my beds. For peat moss, it is recommended to add 2 inches to the top of the bed and work it in. When I add all three at the same time, I found I can easily mix these three together, creating a rich layer of both dirt and moss.
Manure and compost are great to add, as they add nitrogen to the soil, important for rich leafy growth of plants. Nitrogen can get washed out through rain and watering, and it is always worth adding to the soil.
After I mix the soil together, I add Happy Farms Fruit & Flower Fertilizer to the bed. It is a balanced fertilizer that will help the plants throughout the season. A balance fertilizer includes equal amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), or NPK for short. This fertilizer has higher levels of phosphorus to help plants when they start to set fruit.
For certain plants, I will add blood meal to give a boost of straight nitrogen. Brassicas, garlic, onions, and strawberries can all use a bit more nitrogen, and blood meal is a great way to supply your plants with it.
That's it! The garden soil is ready for planting. Excited to share more about my planting day tips in the next post. stay tuned!