The Dirt On Soil

Getting started on a veggie garden this Mother’s Day weekend? Whether you’re planting a full bed or a single container, don’t forget that good soil is job one! Read on for soil preparation tips including what to “feed” your soil, info on soil here in Bedford, and even how to take your soil’s temperature!

Dig-in: Start by digging the soil and turning it well to loosen it up. This can be done with a digging fork or a rototiller but be careful not to over rototill as that can cause problems with drainage. As you turn the soil, loosen clumps of dirt and remove stones and gravel.

Add compost: Soil structure is essential. The most important thing you can add to your garden is organic compost. Spreading a 3” layer of good compost will add microorganisms and nutrients to your garden along with encouraging earthworms and the growth of good bacteria. They will do most of the work in your garden to break down the minerals and natural chemicals in your soil and allow the plants to take them up through their roots.

What kind of soil do I have? If you want to improve your soil and make it more suitable for your vegetable garden, you first have to figure out what you’re dealing with. Is your soil sandy or clay-based? Is it too acidic or too alkaline? The way to answer these questions is to test your soil. There are do-it-yourself tests you can purchase at garden stores. If your soil is too acidic, you need to add alkaline material, such as ground limestone. For soil that is too alkaline, you need to add something that is acidic.

Is my soil ready? To know when to plant, you can actually take your soil’s temperature! Soil — not air — temperature is the trigger for seed germination. Different soil temperatures bring different results. Most cool-loving garden vegetables — such as lettuces, spinach, radishes and arugula – germinate when the soil reaches an average 45 degrees.  Seeds for warm-loving plants – such as tomatoes, squash, beans, peppers and eggplant — wait until typical temperatures are 55 F. You can purchase an inexpensive metal probe thermometer at most garden stores.

What to plant now: We’ve already tested the soil in Bedford. It’s generally acidic and ready for cool-loving seeds and plants! For this Mother’s Day weekend, why not plant some fast-growing lettuce mixes, endive or spinach. You’ll be enjoying the fruits (or the in this case delicious leaves) of your labor by the end of the month!