Spring Has Sprung: Vegetable Gardening 102
by Brandee Gillham
The Cowboy’s Wife
After you have determined the placement and layout of your garden spot, the next thing to get ready is your soil. This is my favorite part of the whole season. There is something about digging in the dirt that is soothing for the soul.
There are some amazingly cool resources to help determine if your soil is too acidic or too basic, but I keep my life much more simple than that… I add the same amendment every year and it has never lead me astray. Never!
My beds remain uncovered in the off season. The first thing I do is add Humalfa Nature’s Prescription to every bed. I add one 40# bag to my 3’ x 16’ beds, 2 - 40# bags to my larger southern beds that measure 6’ x 16’.
This may sound like a shameless plug for a local company out of Iliff, CO but I actually found this product first when I was living in northern Wyoming. I didn’t pay attention to where it was manufactured and simply looked for it again when we moved home to the family ranch. Hands down this is the best soil amendment you can add to your garden! Who doesn’t love to support local companies? You can find bagged Nature’s Prescription at many local hardware stores or you can contact Humalfa directly to purchase in bulk.
The next step is to turn the soil using a flat-point shovel. I love jumping on a shovel and turning dirt! I consider it my daily work out and boy do I feel it the next day.
This really helps to pull the soil away from the side of the beds. Once I get the outer soil turned. I use my mini-rototiller to mix the “old” soil with the new amendments. Let’s be honest though, the better option is to get my cowboy to take his shirt off (to work on getting rid of his terrible cowboy tan lines) and have him till the soil.
Using a rototiller can be fast and efficient, but it can also create some issues. Worms are excellent natural aerators, so you don’t want to chop them to smithereens by over tilling. Also a rototiller can create what is called “tiller pan” and can create a compact, harder surface underneath your nice soft soil. The take home point is don’t over-till your garden. Less is more.
Once the existing soil and amendments are mixed well I use the back side of a hard rake to even out the surface of the bed. I have an old broom that I use to sweep the edge of my beds. I don’t like kneeling down and getting rocks in my knees, and I enjoy the garden looking clean and well-kept.
This picture shows the four stages of the garden. The back bed just has the soil amendments on it. The next bed is starting to be worked by the mini-rototiller. The next bed forward has been tilled and the closest bed has been smoothed and cleaned.
Most of my beds will remain flat for planting my row crops such as carrots, beans, peas, as well as for tomatoes, peppers, etc. My two largest southern beds I heap into 4’x4’ mounds for crops such as zucchini, cucumbers, and squash. This picture shows a rectangular rimmed bed that works great for corn or potatoes. All of the water stays within the walls and keep the soil well moisturized.
I always tell my cowboy that I am a lazy gardener. He strongly disagrees with me during this particular time of garden preparation. It is a ton of work to get to this point. To be completely honest, I don’t like to weed and here is how I deal with that…I use weed proofer on top of every bed. I prefer the black plastic that has small holes in it (not landscape fabric) and I use garden staples to hold down my edges and corners. I then cut slits in the fabric for my row crops (which requires more staples to hold down the new edges) or small holes (4”x4”) for my tomato or pepper starters.
Next time we will go over the significance of crop rotation and setting up a watering system.