Every year I talk to a lot of gardeners who are not happy with their garden’s production of produce. Many of them tell tales of disease, small plant size, insect infestation, and myriad other woes that plaque many gardens. When I try to troubleshoot their concerns, my first questions always revolve around their pre-planting soil preparation. The answers I usually get are that there was little if any preparation other than right before they planted their seeds or transplants.
Quality soil is something that needs to be planned and developed over time. Sure you can till up a patch of your backyard, toss in some fertilizer and some transplants and call it a garden, but you are probably going to be very disappointed if you do not build your soil properly.
I like to have total control over my garden soil so I garden almost exclusively in raised beds. Most all of my beds are filled with straight compost with some perlite and vermiculite mixed in for aeration and moisture retention. I place my raised beds directly on my backyard soil, lightly till the grass inside the bed, then fill it with wheelbarrow loads of compost. Make sure you are buying or building quality compost as bad compost can cause disasters. I just ordered 10 cubic yards of compost from Suburban Lawn and Garden and I know that when the truck arrives, the compost will smell sweet and be a deep black color which tells me it has fully composted and is safe for my garden.
Every year my existing beds settle down a few inches and need to be topped off with more compost. I like to add some garden lime, and some other mineral additives such as Azomite and Aragonite which I get from Troque Farms in Buckner,Missouri. Once I have the beds filled, I run my electric tiller over them to mix the new stuff with the old stuff. I NEVER step foot in my beds to keep from compacting the soil.
All of this needs to be done several weeks before you plant your seeds or transplants. You need to do this early to allow the additives to blend in with your soil so the nutrients are readily available to your garden. Tilling early also chops up hibernating insects and brings them to the surface of the soil where they’ll likely die due to being exposed to the elements of late winter.
Make sure you pick a window (right now is very good!) where the soil has thawed out and is dry. Do not work in wet soil or you will destroy the structure of the soil and have hard clumps of dirt instead of fluffy soil for many years. These past few days of high wind should have dried out the soil enough to work in it.