Getting ready to Garden… Part 2 – Working the soil.

Once you have decided on where or how you are going to garden, the next step is preparing the soil. It is very important to get your soil ready for your plant. This can be a laborious task, but it’s great exercise. There are many ways to break ground. Some prefer using a rototiller, some prefer tractors with a turning plow, but I like using a grub hoe.
A grub hoe is a tool that has been around in some form or fashion since farming began. This tool consists of a hefty wide blade with a large eye on the back for a long wooden handle. It is used with an overhand swing, much like swinging an axe. Depending on the consistency of the soil, once the blade is swung into the soil, it will either need to be rocked slightly to break the soil loose, or it will sheer chunks from the earth. I really like this method, if not for the exercise, but because it is fairly efficient at both breaking the soil and removing weeds, You do have to come back and rake the weeds and bits of grass from your plot, but you are not forced to remove weeds from around the tines of a rototiller.
Another aspect for me at least is the fact that you can break the soil faster by hand than with an under powered tiller. Unless you are willing to go out and purchase a $700 or better tiller, your soil could be too hard to for your tiller to break initially. I do own a tiller, but I use it only for mixing in amendments for the soil.
My method for working my plot involves first marking the perimeter, and then following that perimeter with the grub hoe to get the area clearly defined. Once this step is done, you can proceed anyway you wish. I sometimes make a checker board pattern and then work each square. I sometimes work my way around toward the center. This makes it less monotonous and more enjoyable, almost like a game. Once the soil is broken, you can flip the tool to the back side and used the eye to break up the clumps. Now that you have the area worked, I go back through with a bow rake breaking up the smaller clumps and removing green vegetation.
If you are just now starting this, you can now cover this with black plastic or landscape cloth if you wish. This is an optional step, but does reduce the number of sprouting weeds that come back before time to plant. You can also go ahead and put a heavy layer of mulch on top to accomplish the same effect. If you are doing this closer to planting time, you will have a bit more weeding to do, and you may want to go back over the plot with your rake a few times.
Now that your soil is turned, it’s time to focus on what you need to add. The first year you have your garden, and maybe several after, it would be a good idea to get a sample of soil and get it tested at your local cooperative extension office. This will give you a good overall picture of your soil health and starts your amendment process. You may need to add lime, bone meal, or other things to adjust the pH or soil content. If your soil has a heavy clay content, you may need to add sand and peat moss. One of the most important things after composition is increasing nutrient content.
Now that we have chickens on the homestead, we have a rather healthy supply of composted chicken waste. This adds a good deal of nitrogen to the soil and definitely other good stuff! Other composted manures and commercial composts will also add valuable nutrients to your soil. Just be sure that you don’t put fresh manure on your garden as it can burn your plants.
You are now one step closer to having your very own vegetable garden.