By Cindy Naas
Previously on Urban Garden Casual, there was an excellent post about having your soil tested for contaminants, which is a very good idea.
Assuming that your soil has gotten a clean bill of health, the next step in getting your own urban garden growing is to make sure you have the best soil possible.
Nothing you can do later will be as important to the success of your garden as preparing the soil correctly now.
First, decide whether you will be gardening in the earth or in a collection of pots and other containers. Soil preparation is very different for those two growing conditions. This post will address preparing your own patch of dirt for growing vegetables, and later I’ll tell you how to grow anything in a pot!
Get ready, squeeze!
Dig up a handful of the dirt where your garden will grow. Is it sandy? Hard? Does it stick together? Here’s a way to tell if you have sand, loam or clay soil: wet the earth and then give it a squeeze. Sandy soil won’t hold together at all, loamy soil will hold together after it is squeezed but won’t hold a shape for long, and clay soil will hold its shape.
Sandy soil will drain easily but needs more organic matter to grow really good vegetables and to retain water during the hot summer. Add in composted manure and compost if available. Loamy soil is nearly perfect and is the goal when amending other soil types. Clay soil will sometimes need the addition of sand in order to provide proper drainage and composted manure to enrich it.
Once you’ve determined your soil type and bought amendments, it’s time to dig. Mark the shape of your garden with a garden hose or with chalk, or even with a handful of flour. Taking a good garden spade, lift off the grass if there is any. Slicing off the top layer of grass will leave most of the usable soil and will keep grass from invading your new garden.
After you remove the grass, take a sturdy shovel and remove one shovelful, piling it at the end of the garden. Keep doing this one shovel at a time, working toward the end of the new bed. After the bed is mostly dug, add in some of whichever amendment you’ve chosen and begin tossing the dirt back into the bed. Mix the amendments in with each shovelful of dirt. As you mix in the sand, manure etc., chop any big lumps of soil with your shovel blade. Note: even when gardening with children this is a job for an adult. Having your foot whacked by an enthusiastic young gardener armed with a garden tool is not a lot of fun.
After you’ve finished adding in your soil amendments and chopping up any clumps of soil, the last thing you should do is to use the garden rake. Lightly rake the amended soil, pulling up any remaining clumps of soil and breaking them up with your shovel. By the time you finish, you should have a nice-smelling rich soil which holds together when squeezed.
When you’re done cleaning and storing your tools, give your new garden bed a quick watering. Let it sit overnight so it can settle. In the mean while, why not go inside and open a nice bottle of wine, and maybe browse through a new seed catalogue? Preparing a new garden bed is hard work, and so you deserve a reward.