Before there can be success with gardening, there must be a successful base in which to begin.....the soil. Without the proper soil conditions, you have nothing on which to build. Unless you first prepare your soil, you will be wasting you time, money and efforts.
Even before you touch the soil...what is the location of your garden? Some immediate considerations include:
Soil testing is an important practice for the home gardener. Results will show the amounts of residual fertilizers in the soil and the amounts that should be added to improve plant growth. Tests also determine the pH of the soil, which will determine how much lime should be added.
Most soil samples can be taken to county extension offices for testing. They provide recommendations for the kind and amount of fertilizer and lime to apply.
Preparation and Improvement
Begin in the fall. Chop up all leaves and natural litter and turn into the soil in the fall. This controls diseases and speeds up decomposition.
Use organic matter when possible. This improves soil tilth, conserves soil moisture which in turn aids in root development. Compost is a good source of organic matter. It can be made up of straw, hay, leaves, manure, sawdust, weeds, kitchen scraps, etc. When layered with soil and kept moist, your compost pile can supply you with generous amounts of organic material for enhancing the soil.
Cover crops planted in vegetable gardens aids in building soil nutrients such as nitrogen as well as building soil tilth. Included are crimson clover, rye, annual alfalfa, oats, buckwheat or vetch. These can be planted separately in in combination. These are turned under in early spring a few weeks before planting begins.
Fertilizers are sold by grade, such as 10-10-10, 6-12-12 or 5-10-15. These numbers refer to the percent of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash. Example in a 100 lbs. of 10-10-10 fertilizer, there is 10 lbs. of nitrogen (N), 10 pounds of available phosphorus (P) and 10 pounds of soluble potash (K). The other 70 pounds are chemicals used by the plant, plus a conditioner to keep the fertilizer from becoming lumpy.