My gardening journey has begun, and I have completed my first task on the road to garden glory! Before I get into the essentials of preparing the perfect soil, let’s first do a bit of an audit so that you can see where my garden is at the moment.
My Veggie Garden Audit
- I have 3 lovely olive trees. I missed the fruit this year, but made stunning preserved olives last year! Definitely on the cards for 2017.
- 2 rather sad-looking strawberry plants.
- Spinach that have become a feast for snails.
- Beetroot that is seriously just not thriving.
- A very young avo tree.
- Beautiful onion flowers – I have always had LOADS of onion flowers, but not really any onions. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that I allow them to flower.
- Snails – full and fat and strong like Popeye.
- Cling peaches. To be honest, I have about 6 of these trees, and in the 5 years we’ve been on the farm, I have yet to have a successful harvest.
- Rocket – this grows like weeds in the garden, and I love it!
- Unidentified as yet green worm.
- French Lavender – beautiful and fragrant, this is supposed to keep bugs away while attracting butterflies and the like. Another great benefit of onion flowers!
So it’s not all bad when you look at it up close. When you stand back and get an overall picture though, it’s uninspiring at best.
Many of my raised beds have been trampled by cattle, but luckily there are a few that are still intact. I am going to start preparing the soil in those so that I can do succession planting – this is where you plant at intervals to ensure a consistent harvest of a crop throughout the season.
Raised beds are not essential, but they have many benefits:
- You can contain the good quality soil that you want in the bed
- You can easily add compost and plant food
- It’s easier to work at a raised height
I will look at raised beds and garden design next month, so make sure you subscribe that I can keep you up to date!
Analise your soil
You will first need to figure out what kind of soil you have. Soil is made up of 3 different soil particles, namely clay, silt and sand. The combination of particles will determine how suitable your soil is for planting vegetables. To test you soil, take a handful and squeeze it into a ball. If it falls apart immediately, it’s sandy. If it forms a tight ball, it’s clayey. But if it forms a soft ball that slowly crumbles apart, you’ve got the perfect sandy loam mixture and you’re in business!
If your soil is less than great, don’t despair! By adding sand and compost into soil with a high clay content, you can rectify the situation. Lime can also be added to improve the soil, but if it is really bad then it’s best to make raised beds and adding loamy topsoil.
To better sandy soil, add loads of compost, peaty moss and other organic matter.
Preparing the soil
Once you know that your soil is suitable for planting, you will need to prepare the beds. I got the boys all excited and off to the veggie garden we went to get the soil ready.
- Loosen the soil with a fork, and remove any stones and weeds.
- Add some Wonder Organic Bone Meal – this puts nitrogen in the soil which is great for leaf production and phosphorus which is essential for strong roots. 3 handfuls per bed should do the trick. Then work that into the soil.
- Next, add loads of organic compost and manure. Living on a farm, compost and manure are 2 things that we have a lot of. Manure is an amazingly nutritious fertilizer, but make sure that it isn’t raw: the nitrogen levels in fresh manure is too high and will cause an imbalance in your soil and damage the plants. It has to be composted first, either by mixing it into your compost heap or by composting it on its own. If you don’t have a compost heap, don’t worry – I will get into that in a follow-up post. Once you’ve made that black gold, you won’t know how you ever gardened without it!
- Make sure that you work the compost into the soil.
If you have to buy compost, make sure that it is organic and certified weed-free. Your plants are only going to be as healthy as the soil it grows in, so give it the best start you can!
Now water! The idea is to get any weed seeds that may have snuck in, to germinate before you plant your veggies. Over the next few weeks, pull up the weeds BEFORE they go to seed and leave on top of the soil to dry in the sun. By using the weeds as mulch or composting them and working them back into the soil, you preserve the precious nutrients that they took out of the soil.
In a few weeks, I’ll be ready to start planting. In the meantime, there is lots to do: sewing seeds into seedling trays and getting the pathways and irrigation sorted out. And hopefully, I’ll be able to sort out those peach trees!