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Preparing Spring Garden Beds

Getting started in the spring garden can be one of the most joyful parts of the year! There is so much potential and possibility in the months ahead. Putting a little time and energy into thoughtfully preparing your garden for the growing season can make a big difference. Here are a few tips for preparing your spring garden beds.

Take care not to work in the soil when it is too wet.

This can potentially damage your soil structure and create unintended soil compaction, which will make it hard for the soil to drain properly and more challenging for organisms in the soil ecosystem to thrive. Look for a window of dry weather in the forecast, or consider covering your bed with some black plastic for a week or two to keep the bed dry and warm the soil. To check the soil moisture level, dig up a small amount of soil and create a small ball in your hand. Toss it into the air about 12-15” from waist height and let it fall into an open palm. If the ball sticks together, the soil is too wet. If the ball breaks into crumbles, then it is just right.

Chop in any cover crops from the winter.

If you planted a cover crop in the fall, mid-spring is a great time to turn the cover crop under. The first step is to chop the cover crop into small pieces with shears, scissors or even tear it up (this can be a lot of fun with kids!). If you are practicing no-till methods, from here you can cover the bed with burlap and let the material break down – this will take about 6 weeks. If you are practicing low-till methods, you can take a shovel and dig into the soil a few inches to gently turn some of the chopped material upside-down. This helps to make that material more available to the soil organisms who will break it down. Cover the bed with burlap and wait about one month before planting.

Amend your soil with compost and a well-balanced fertilizer.

If you had some overwintered crops in the garden or simply covered your beds with a mulch, clear the space where you would like to get started by pulling the plants or pushing the mulch aside. As a general maintenance practice, you can add 1-3” of compost across the surface of your soil to help encourage a healthy soil ecosystem. Additionally, this can be a great time to add a well-balanced, organic granular fertilizer, which will help replenish nutrients in the garden and release slowly to our plants over time. Follow the instructions for application for the product you are using, and remember that less can be more when fertilizing.

Use a garden fork to lightly cultivate the soil.

This action will help to aerate, or create more space for air and water, within the soil. In turn, this helps support healthy gardens by opening up some space in the soil for drainage, soil organisms and plants to grow. This can be especially helpful after our wet winters, which can leave the ground compacted from the impact of all the rain. To do this, just insert a garden fork into the soil about 8-12” down and pull back on the garden fork gently, throughout the garden area. The action is similar to fluffing a pot of rice with a fork, and the idea is to just aerate lightly, not to flip the soil over. This will help to preserve various kinds of soil microbes that live in various layers throughout the soil. Take care not to step on the areas where you’re working, which would undo all of your work. It can be helpful to start from the middle and work your way back. Also, by cultivating your soil after adding any compost or fertilizers, you are helping to integrate those materials into the soil. The last step would be to use a rake, your hands or another tool to smooth the surface of the beds.

Now you’re ready for planting! Have fun.

If you are excited about learning more and building healthy soil in your P-Patch over time, we recommend checking out a couple of resources: