Preparing the Garden

The Very first step in gardening is the preparation effort taken to grow plants and trees. This is step 1 in the process and we found an interesting article in the book called “Annuals for Northern California” by “Bob Tanem and Don Williamson”. Here is a excerpt from the book for our users.

PREPARING THE GARDEN

Taking the time to Prepare your flowerbeds before you transplant will save you time and effort over summer. Many gardening problems can be avoided with good preparation and maintenance.

Starting out with as few weeds as possible and with well-prepared soil that has had organic material added will give your annuals a good start. For container gardens,use potting soil because regular garden soil loses its structure when used in pots,quickly compacting into a solid mass that drains poorly.

Loosen the soil with a large garden fork and remove the weeds. Avoid working the soil when it is very wet or very dry because you will damage the soil structure by breaking down the pockets that hold air and water. Add organic matter and work it into the soil with a spade or rototiller.

Organic matter is a very important component for heavy clay soil. It increases the water-holding and nutrient-holding capacity of sandy soil and binds together the large particles. In a clay soil, organic matter will increase the soil’s ability to absorb and drain water by opening up spaces between the tiny particles.

Common organic additives for your soil include grass clippings, shredded leaves, peat moss, chopped straw, well-rotted manure ,alfalfa pellets and compost. Alfalfa pellets supply a range of nutrients including trace elements and also contain a plant growth hormone.

Composting

Any organic matter you add will be of greater benefit to your soil if it has been composted first. Adding composted organic matter to soil adds nutrients ,can adjust the pH to a more acceptable range and improves soil structure. Decaying organic matter releases acids and can help lower the soil pH.

Soils with lots of organic matter are buffered from sharp rises in soil pH. If your soil is highly acidic and has lots of organic matter, it will require more amendments and time to raise the pH. In natural environments, such as forests or meadows, compost is created when leaves, plant bits and other debris are broken down on the soil surface.

This process will also take place in your garden beds if you work fresh organic matter into the soil. However, micro-organisms that break organic matter down use the same nutrients as your plants. The tougher the organic matter, the more nutrients in the soil will be used trying to break the matter down. This will rob your plants of vital nutrients, particularly nitrogen.

Also, fresh organic matter and garden debris might encourage or introduce pests and diseases in your garden. It is best to compost organic matter before adding it to your garden beds, A compost pile or bin, which can be built or purchased, creates a controlled environment where organic matter can be fully broken down before being introduced to your garden.

Good composting methods also reduce the possibility of spreading pests and diseases. Creating compost is a simple process. Kitchen scraps, grass clippings and fall leaves will slowly break down if left in a pile. Following a few simple guidelines can speed up the process.

Your compost pile should contain both dry and fresh materials, with a larger proportion of dry matter such as chopped straw, shredded newspaper, shredded leaves or sawdust. Fresh green matter, such as vegetable scraps, grass clippings or pulled weeds, breaks down quickly and produces nitrogen, which feeds If you use kitchen scraps, consider introducing red worms to the mix.

You can have usable worm castings in as little as six weeks. The process is simple. Get a plastic container and ensure it has drainage holes. Place a light layer of shredded newspaper (avoid glossy newsprint)into the container and add all kitchen scraps, minus any meat products.

 You can buy red worms at any bait shop and let them eat your garbage. the decomposer organisms while they break down the tougher dry matter. Layer the green matter with the dry matter and mix in small amounts of soil from your garden or previously finished compost.

 The addition of soil or compost will introduce beneficial micro-organisms. If the pile seems very dry, sprinkle some water between the layers-the compost should be moist but not soaking wet, like a wrung-out sponge.

Adding nitrogen, like that found in fertilizer, will speed up decomposition. Avoid strong concentrations of nitrogen that can kill beneficial organisms.

Each week or two, use a pitchfork to turn the pile over or poke holes into it. This will help aerate the material, which will speed up decomposition. A compost pile that is kept aerated can generate a lot of heat, reaching temperatures up to 160 F. Such a high temperature will destroy weed seeds and kill many damaging organisms.

Most beneficial organisms will not be killed unless the temperature rises higher than this. To monitor the temperature of the compost near the middle of the pile you will need a thermometer that is attached to a long probe,similar to a large meat thermometer.

 Turn your compost once the temperature drops. Turning and aerating the pile will stimulate the process to heat up again. If you don’t want to turn it,the pile can just be left to sit.It will eventually be ready to use in several months to a year.

Avoid adding diseased or pest-ridden materials to your compost pile. If the damaging organisms are not destroyed, they could be spread throughout your garden. If you do add material you suspect of harboring pests or diseases, add it near the center of the pile where the temperature is highest. Never add tomato vines from the garden.

When you can no longer recognize the matter that you put into the compost bin, and the temperature no longer rises upon turning, your compost is ready to be mixed into your garden beds. Getting to this point can take as little as one month and will leave you with organic material that is rich in nutrients and beneficial organisms.

Compost can also be purchased from most garden centers. Whether you use your own or store-bought compost, add a trowelful of compost to the planting hole and mix it into the garden soil before adding your annual.