Preparing and Testing Soil, Choosing Plants, & Simple Gardening Tips
If you’ve been hesitant to start a garden, worried about committing to what looks like a time demanding, labor intensive project, this article can show you the basics. The key to manageable and enjoyable gardening is to keep it small and simple.
Bigger is Not Necessarily Better
If you are new to gardening, be sure to start with a small garden plot. You can always make the plot larger next season if you want to expand your efforts. A very small garden plot, or collection of container gardens, can still provide you with a worthwhile harvest.
When you start a new garden plot you’ll first need to turn or till the soil. If your garden is small and your soil light or sandy, you may want to just use a shovel and a metal rake to turn and smooth the soil. If your garden is large, or your soil heavy clay, you may want to rent a rototiller.
Few garden plots start their life with perfectly balanced soil that is rich in organic matter and nutrients. More typically, a new garden plot will have soil that isn’t optimal for growing; with perhaps too much clay or sand, a high or low pH or an unbalanced nutrient content.
Don’t become overwhelmed with analyzing soil properties. You can purchase an inexpensive soil testing kit at most garden centers. Once you have the results of your soil test, talk to a professional at the garden center about what you’ll need to purchase to correct any imbalances.
Even if your soil is rich (but especially if it is poor) it is a good practice to regularly build or amend your soil by adding organic matter, such as composted cow manure, humus or material that you have composted in a home compost bin.
This is easiest to do in the spring, prior to turning the soil and planting your garden. At least once every growing season add organic matter to provide your plants with additional nutrients and help the soil maintain an optimal moisture level.
When growing vegetables in a small plot, choose only your favorites, or those with a high price tag at the market that will grow in your climate. Trying to grow a little bit of everything presents more work and less yield.
For example, even a relatively small 10×10 garden plot is large enough to grow four indeterminate growth tomato plants, two pepper plants, two pole bean or snap peas (growing up tomato cages), and two rows of greens, such as leaf lettuce and spinach. The rows of greens can be cut and harvested several times, providing you will and entire summer of salads.
Once your garden is planted, apply a thick layer of mulch on top of the soil, between the rows and around the plants. Mulch protects your plants from the extreme changes in moisture level, dirt and disease that can splash up from rain hitting the soil, and will also reduce the amount of time you’ll spend weeding your garden.