There is no surer sign of spring than blooming gardens and flowerbeds, but what happens behind-the-scenes to get them to that point?
Much of the work goes in before you even break the soil. Before you dig in, it's important to choose the proper site, plan what you will be growing, and prepare the soil to yield the best possible results. A garden is nothing without a good foundation, making it extra important to choose the correct site.
Temperature is a large factor for optimal garden growth, so avoid low areas and spots bounded on the lower side by a solid fence or dense trees. These tend to create cooler temperatures longer into the spring, unlike the fast-warming tendencies of a southern or southeastern exposure. Convenience is key, so make sure to choose a site accessible to your house with enough access to water. Finding a balance between watering your plants and drowning them is vital. Choose a well-drained area, one that typically does not hold water for a day or more after rainfall. If poorly drained soil is dominant in your area, consider a raised bed garden.
Once you select a site, it's important to have a plan for its layout. Have a general idea of what vegetables or plants you wish to grow in the garden. Some, like tomatoes, peppers, or broccoli, may be available as transplants from local stores, but others will require purchasing seed. Every family has different dietary wants and needs, so knowing how much of each vegetable to grow is important. Your family may be satisfied with two plants of beans, but you may need 12 tomato plants. Knowing your requirements and putting that into consideration when planning your site is helpful.
The size of your garden is also a factor; in smaller areas, vegetables like peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers produce well, but others may not. You are bound to the ground, so plan accordingly.
It is important to remember that the soil nurtures the plants, so you need to nurture the soil. Effective gardens are not formed naturally; they take a great deal of alteration to create. If there is surface grass on the site, remove it, turn it over with a shovel, or plow the area several weeks before planting. Once you've cleared the space, you can begin attending to the soil quality. Organic matter goes a long way in helping the fertility of the soil. Add 1-2 inches of compost, composted manure, peat moss, humus or other organic matter to the surface of the soil, working to a depth of 6-10 inches. If you are considering adding fresh manure, avoid doing so within 120 days of crop harvest.
Soil testing can provide valuable information about your garden site. Contact your county extension office if you are interested in more information about soil testing.
For more information on garden preparation and soil testing contact the Laurel County Cooperative Extension Office at (606) 864-4167.