How to prepare  your vegetable garden’s soil?

How to prepare your vegetable garden’s soil?

Albert, Manager of a gardening service, Leicester

Guide written by:

Albert, Manager of a gardening service, Leicester

49 guides

Properly preparing the ground for future planting is mandatory requisite for obtaining bountiful vegetables. The required weeding, fertilising and loosening of soil implies the use of, but not limited to, a hoe, potting soil, horse manure, garden forks, tiller and cultivators.

Important features

  • Weeding
  • Fertilising
  • Loosening soil
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Properly preparing land for a successful vegetable garden

The soil is the garden's base. It is composed of minerals, water, air and organic matter. To ensure that these elements are in the correct proportions, a basic requirement before accommodating any plants, the ground needs to be prepared in the proper way.

3 primary activites to reach this objective 

Preparing the land can be summed up in three essential operations: weeding, fertilising, or supplying additional organic or mineral matter to improve the soil and plowing, defined as the rotating of the soil. Each of these operations will have different guidelines depending on whether it is a traditional ororganic vegetable garden.

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Weeding: the first step in land preparation


If you already have a garden, chances are that the weeds have already invaded it by the end of the season. Even if your vegetable garden isn't established yet, the weeds are already there! They should be eliminated before going forward in order to leave room for future crops. To accomplish this there are two main techniques, that should be implemented before the start of winter
The first approach is to form clumps with the help of a garden forks. The clumps are then progressively turned over, without breaking them up. In this way, the roots end up above the ground, in the air, while the stems and leaves are buried. Deprived of light, the weeds will die off. 
The second technique is to cover them with a taurpalin cover or, better yet, a woven mulch ground cover. This last option has the advantage of being permeable all the while filtering the light, which results in the weeds' demise within a few weeks. Both approaches are considered very organic methods, although they are very often used for conventional soil preparation.

Another, more traditional method is to pull the herbs using a claw weeder, garden hoe or a planter for deeper roots. To tear out those stubborn weeds that have survived the tools by hand, simply seize the plant by the bottom of the stem - the collar - to rotate it on itself by a quarter of a turn and to pull it towards you. Once the weeds are out, the ground can be covered with grass or other clippings from the lawn mower or vegetable grinder. This last layer needs to cover the grass completely and have a thickness greater than five centimeters in order to be effective.

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Improving soil with fertiliser


The ground under a vegetable garden needs to be rich in organic matter and minerals. It is important that it also retains the right amount of water, letting the rest be evacuated as needed. For example, clay soil retains more water and can sometimes damage plants due to excess moisture. On the other hand, if the soil is sandy, it drains too much, leaving crops to suffer from lack of water. It is therefore crucial to find exactly the right balance. The solution for clay soil, for example, is to incorporate river sand to balance it out.  
If the soil is too sandy, add compost, horse manure  or potting soil. It's also important to remember that some crops such as carrots, spinach, broccoli or beans can prosper in sandy soil, provided they be watered regularly and supplemented with organic matter.

No matter what the configuration or type of soil, supplying organic matter is crucial to having fertile soil. This implies the incorporation of anywhere from 5 to 20 liters of compost per square meter, depending on the current status of the soil. Universal potting soil can be used without limit, and specially designed soils for specific vegetables should be restricted to the amount recommended by the manufacturer's. The use of organic fertiliser, either in granule, ground horn or dried blood form, is equally conceivable. Organic fertilisers have the advantage of being a permanent fixture in the soil, along with being rich in nitrogen. Note that one can just as easily use home-made compost, provided that you are equipped with a composter or a compost bin. This last approach is not only efficient, but it by far on of the best in terms of the environmental impact it creates. 

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Plowing: operation prior to planting


Before planting the  vegetable seeds in your garden plowing will be required. That means that the earth beneath your feeds needs to be rotated. This operation is essential because it aerates and loosens the soil at the same time, resulting in a more malleable soil, which is easier for the roots to develop in.  There are several methods to achieve this:

  • Using a garden fork;
  • Using a broadfork.

cultivator or tiller has the distinct advantage of having a higher working speed than any hand tool. A cultivator allows you to dig deeper into the ground, while a tiller provides an equally correct result, but is reserved for the surface of the soil. For the best result, go through the soil twice, a first time in a longitudinal direction and then repeated in a transverse fashion.

A garden fork also lends itself to a deeper rotation, but requires more time to do so. On the other hand, its use results in the preservation of the microfauna, especially earthworms, which are crucial to the vegetable garden's success due to their natural aeration and contribution of organic matter.
For the best result, clods should be broken up once they have all been flipped over, by simply hitting with them with the edge of a tool, the back of a rake or a claw weeder. 
A broadfork is designed for loosening the soil at a deep level, without upsetting the soil's organic composition, leaving the microfauna almost intact. It is used often used in the context of an organic vegetable garden. A broadfork is very easy to use, and has one major quality: it doesn't strain your back! The technique is simple: just exerce a downward pressure with your foot on it to push the teeth into the ground, pull back and lift it up. Shift over by a few inches and repeat!

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More information

Still need more information on creating the perfect outdoor space and maintaining it? Follow our editors' advice and check out their other guides: 

Discover all our tools for loosening soil!

Guide written by:

Albert, Manager of a gardening service, Leicester, 49 guides

Albert, Manager of a gardening service, Leicester

For several years I have been running a garden service with a clientele of both individuals and companies. I manage a team of gardeners and ensure the creation and maintenance of green spaces. At the same time, I bring my expertise to my clients in terms of the maintenance and improvement of their gardens. In fact, as a trainee and working in the hospitality industry at the beginning of my career, I focused on landscaping in a local community where I acquired solid technical skills through in-house training and the follow-up of major projects in a rapidly changing town. On a personal level, I am equally oriented towards the art of gardening. With my wife, I created our garden from start to finish and I maintain it carefully, the same goes for the vegetable garden. As for DIYing, it’s not to be outdone. Yes, gardening is also tinkering: pergola, hut, pavement, fence, and so on...There is always something to do in a garden. After working well together, my wife and I are proud of the result and delighted to be able to take full advantage of a friendly and warm environment. So, let us give you advice and help you in your choice of tools, maintenance, or improvement of your garden, nothing could be simpler.

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