Today, lets address the frequently asked question from my school gardening students, “can I plant my vegetables anywhere on a piece of land”?
The soil is a storehouse for all the elements plants need to grow: nutrients, organic matter, air, and water. Soil also provides support for plant roots. When properly prepared and cared for, soil can be improved each year and will continue to grow plants forever. Uncared for soil will soon become suited only for growing weeds.
Gardeners work with many different soils. Some are very sandy, some are sticky clay, and others are rocky and shallow.
Sandy soils do not hold enough water; in windy areas, blowing sand can injure vegetables. Clay soils hold too much water and do not allow enough air to enter the soil.
Vegetables need a deep and well-drained soil with adequate organic matter. Good garden soil with proper moisture will not form a hard ball when squeezed in the hand. It should crumble easily when forced between the fingers. It should not crack or crust over when dry (Fig. 1).
Figure 1. Good garden soil will crumble easily.
Almost all garden soils can be improved by adding organic matter to make soil more workable. The organic matter:
- Loosens tight clay
- Helps sand hold more water
- Makes soil easier to dig
- Adds nutrients
Some common organic matter are:
Plant materials: This includes leaves, straw, and grass clippings. Work material into the soil several months before planting to allow it time to decompose.
Manure: Use composted manure and incorporate it into the soil well ahead of planting. Do not use fresh manure, as it can damage plants and introduce diseases. Apply 30 to 40 pounds of composted manure for every 100 square feet.
Compost: Compost consists of decayed plant materials. Work it into the soil before planting.
Sawdust: Compost this before adding it to the garden. Do not use uncomposted sawdust because it will rob the soil of nitrogen and, consequently, starve the plants of this essential nutrient.
Tilling the soil
The soil should be tilled as deeply as possible, at least 8 to 10 inches. Deep tilling loosens soil and lets vegetable roots go deeper. Turn each shovelful of soil completely over (Fig. 2).
Figure 2. Turn over the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches, using a spade or rototiller
Till soil when it is moist but not wet. Working soil when it is too wet can cause it to become rough. Add organic matter each year during soil preparation to build and maintain the soil. Be sure all plant material is turned under the soil. If organic material is added before planting a garden, it should be well-rotted, such as compost.
Before planting, rake the soil clean and level it. Remove all sticks, rocks and other material.
Row / bed preparation
In most areas, vegetables should be planted on raised beds (Fig. 3) Raised beds:
- Allow water to drain away from plant roots
- Provide furrows for irrigation
- Allow air to enter soil
- Help plants through periods of high rainfall
Figure 3. Plant vegetables on raised beds.
If the garden is large enough, make rows.
Straight beds are nice but not necessary. Use a shovel or rake to pull the soil up into beds 8 to 10 inches high. Pack beds or allow them to settle before planting. Also level the tops of the beds and widen them to about 6 to 8 inches before planting. Plant on top of the beds (Fig. 4.)
Figure 4. Plant vegetables on top of prepared beds.
After completing the steps required to properly prepare the soil for planting, gardening might seem anything but “easy.” But with proper soil preparation, gardening will get “easier” every year.
For more tips, join the Let’s GO Farming team as we journey through schools in Ghana to introduce them to agriculture through school gardens and nutritional education games. Watch us on TV3 this July or on Youtube. We cannot wait to hear from you via our social media platforms @Lgftv @Letsgofarmingtv