Prepare Soil Properly

Regardless of the soil in your garden, it can be improved by adding organic matter. This is one of the keys to successful EARTH-KIND vegetable gardening.

If your soil is heavy clay, the addition of organic matter improves both drainage and aeration and also allows better root development. Liberal amounts of organic matter help sandy soil hold water and nutrients.

Where do you get organic matter? This magical stuff which improves soil and serves as a food source for soil fungi and bacteria comes in the form of peat moss, compost, hay, grass clippings, barnyard fertilizer, shredded bark, leaves or even shredded newspapers.

When adding organic matter to soil, supply enough to physically change the soil structure. Ideally, at least one-third of the final soil mix should be some type of organic material. To accomplish this, spread a 2- to 4- inch layer of organic material over the garden surface and till it to a depth of at least 6 to 10 inches. Apply the recommended rate of fertilizer over the garden surface at the same time, and till it in along with the organic material.

Some gardeners prefer a shovel or spading fork to the rototiller for working garden soil, but many look for an easier way to handle this chore. For gardeners with rototillers or those who are considering renting or buying one, here are some tips to make the tilling job much easier.

  • Tilling the garden will be easier if you leave an untilled row between passes. Wide turns are easier to make with a tiller than "about faces." Also, the machine won't pull itself and you toward the next row, which it tends to do if you come close to overlapping rows.

  • When tilling heavy clay soils or breaking ground for a new garden, reduce the tiller's engine speed so that it turns the soil more thoroughly with less bucking and bouncing.

  • When tilling ground for the first time, don't try to work it to the maximum depth in the first pass. The first time around, set the brake stake to half the desired depth. Then set it for full depth and go over the ground a second time.

  • Till only when the soil is slightly dry and friable. Tilling when it's too wet leaves large clods which become rock-hard when dry. Mud clumps clinging to tiller blades upset its balance, causing undue wear on you and the tiller.¶