Having the best vegetable garden requires one to have top-quality soil. This can only be achieved by good soil preparation. In this guide, I will show you how to prepare the soil for planting vegetables without breaking a sweat or the bank.
Growing vegetables in containers has become a necessity. It is everyone’s desire to eat fresh vegetables that they can easily grow in containers. In some cases we find ourselves living in urban setup. Choosing the right kind of soil is not easy that why we recommend the best kind of soil to use for container vegetable gardening
The majority of vegetables do well in crumbly and rich soil while others thrive in sand or clay soils. You can grow vegetables either in the garden, pots, or raised garden beds.
When preparing the soil to grow vegetables, ensure the pH is okay, it has a lot of compost as well as other organic matter such as shredded bark and composted leaves. The organic material ensures that the soil is neither compacted nor sandy.
You might be wondering what are the right parameters for growing vegetables. This will help you in planning for your next vegetable garden. Below we are going to discuss some of the soil characteristics you should look out for when preparing your vegetable garden.
For most vegetable gardeners, there is no exciting time like when they finally get the chance to start their own garden. But along with all the excitement, comes several questions that may leave some gardeners even more confused. Questions like when to plant a vegetable garden and what kind of vegetables can they grow in their garden? There is a lot of planning that goes into vegetable gardening and without a planting calendar, your garden can suffer from poor planning
Before preparing the soil for planting your vegetables, it is highly recommended to have samples of your soil taken and tested at a local extension service by qualified agronomists. They will advise you which of the components below are missing.
Desirable Characteristics of Soil for Planting Vegetables
- Ideal Soil Texture – The soil for growing vegetables should have equal amounts of silt, clay, and sand. This makes what is known as loam soil which is free draining, fertile, and easy to dig. However, despite most vegetables doing well in loamy soils. Some vegetables do well in sandy soil while some do well in clay and silt soils.
If your garden has sandy soils, they are more suited for growing root vegetables such as parsnips and carrots. Sandy soils are not ideal for vegetables that require a lot of nutrients such as brassicas e.g., broccoli and cabbages.
Sandy soils usually allow water and nutrients to drain away which means that they are less fertile. Sand soil becomes quite dry in summer and warms up faster in spring which is good for seedlings that are getting started. However, plants that have shallow roots are more likely to dry in sandy soils. It is also easier to dig sandy soils than clay/silt soils.
If your garden has clay/silt soils, they are more suitable for brassicas such as cauliflower, turnip, and choy sum. Unfortunately, root vegetables like turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, carrots, kohlrabi, and garlic tend to struggle in clay soils.
Clay soils have smaller particles are thus classified as heavy soils. They have a poor drainage and much likely to get waterlogged and sticky.
When working with clay soils to grow vegetables, it is highly recommended to use raised beds to improve on drainage.
All in all, it is highly recommended to ensure the paths in the garden are well laid out to ensure the soil is not compacted.
- Soil pH – This is a parameter that is used to indicate how acidic or alkaline a soil is and is measured in pH units. To test for soil pH you need a soil sample, distilled water, filters, and pH test strips. It is not a very easy process and we highly recommend you get a professional (agronomist) to do that for you.
The most ideal soil pH for growing vegetables is 6.5 but the Ph can range from 6.0 to 7.0. It is also good to note that a significant number of vegetables are not affected by a pH of between 5.5 to 7.5. However, if the pH is above 7.5 (alkaline) or below 5.5 (acidic), it becomes necessary to treat or modify the soil.
If the pH is above 7.0, it can be lowered by adding aluminum sulfate and sulfur. An agronomist will advise on the correct quantities to add. Aluminum sulfate changes the soil pH immediately because it releases the acidity as soon as comes into contact with the soil.
- Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium – These are very essential soil nutrients required by all plants and commonly known as N-P-K (chemical formulae of the nutrients). The three crucial nutrients are usually represented with numbers on fertilizer bags (e.g., 5-7-4). It is the percentage of each component to the total volume of the fertilizer. For example, in the above example, the fertilizer contains 5% Nitrogen, 7% Phosphorous, and 4% Potassium. The remaining 84% is the filler material.
The aforementioned organic material outlined earlier provides these nutrients but sometimes it becomes necessary to adjust them in the soil. This can be achieved either organically or using chemical fertilizers after testing the soils.
To replenish Nitrogen in the soil, the chemical fertilizer should a higher first number (e.g, 10-5-5). One can also use animal manure or nitrogen fixing plants such as peanuts, lupine flowers, autumn olives, or empress trees. Some vegetables that require nitrogen top dressing to do well include leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet corn and peppers among others.
Phosphorous can be added in the soil by amending with organic material such as rock phosphate or bone meal or adding a chemical fertilizer with a high second number e.g., 5-10-5.
Phosphorus is essential for the development of roots, formation of stems, and fruiting in summer vegetables. Some vegetables that require lots of phosphorous include carrots, eggplants, tomatoes, and melons. It is good to note that Phosphorous does not move from the source even when water is poured with proper aeration in place, thus it is important to apply it near the roots.
Potassium (K) is added in soil using either an organic substance like wood ash, potash or greensand or through the use of a chemical fertilizer having a high last number e.g., 2-2-10.
- Trace Nutrients – Vegetables also need other trace nutrients and minerals to do well. They include: Iron, Boron, Copper, Manganese, Calcium, Zinc, and Molybdenum.
Soil Preparation for Planting Vegetables
The soil for planting vegetables should possess all the above components which include organic matter, nutrients, water, and air. Generally, the soil ought to be loose and well-draining. The soil should not be too sandy or too heavy (clay).
In general, vegetable garden soil should be well-draining and loose. It should not be too heavy (i.e., clay soil) or too sandy. Soil is crucial in providing support for plant roots.
When the soil is prepared well and taken care of, it can be improved every year and used to grow vegetables and other plants forever. Soil that is uncared for cannot support any type of plant.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to prepare the soil in your garden for planting vegetables.
How to Prepare Soil for Planting Vegetables (Step by Step Guide)
- Choose an Area to Grow Your Vegetables
If you have a large piece of land, it is highly recommended to start by selecting an area where you will grow your vegetables. The size will depend on the quantity of vegetables you want to grow. Different types of vegetables require different spacing, be sure to check the spacing requirements of the vegetable you want to grow. You can work with any area but it is recommended to go for an area of at least 30-70 square feet which will give you sufficient area to grow different types of vegetables.
The area should be getting about 6-8 hours of sunlight every day or more. The majority of vegetables do well in full sunlight. After you chose the spot in your yard, use some stick to mark the area not to lose it.
NB: Always ensure there are no utility lines such as electrical wires or pipes underground in this area as digging there might interfere with them.
If your question is how to prepare soil for planting vegetables in pots, you only have to select an area with sufficient sunlight followed by choosing appropriate containers for planting the vegetables. Do not fill the pots with garden soil as it may get compacted easily inside the pot. Instead, go for an appropriate organic potting soil for vegetables that retains moisture and resists compaction.
- Dig or Loosen the Soil
You should start your garden by loosening the soil to a depth of 8.5 – 10.5 inches. You can use a shovel, straight spade, or hoe to achieve this. The soil should be turned over so that the topsoil or organic matter is at the bottom.
Remove any grass, weeds, or sod if any. Break the large clods of dirt so that the soil achieves a uniform size and consistency. One can use a motorized tiller or cultivator to loosen the soil more quickly.
- Test or Have Your Soil Tested
As mentioned earlier, it is always a good idea to ensure the soil has the necessary requirements for growing vegetables. This can only be achieved by testing the soil for such parameters as texture, soil pH, and NPK composition.
You can do some of these tests yourself but most of them need to be done by a professional agronomist.
To test for soil texture and/or type you need to wear gardening gloves to prevent skin irritation from plants and dirt. Put a lump of soil in your hand and squeeze it to see if it crumbles easily. Good soil should form a loose ball that will crumble easily; that is loamy soil ideal for vegetables. If the soil forms a hard ball (when slightly wet), then it is clay soil and very thick for most plants to grow. If the soil does not form a soft ball, then it is too sandy. Test at different spots in the garden because the soil can vary.
You can then use the services of an agronomist to test the nutrients in the soil or use a soil test kit. You will need to collect about 6 soil samples from different spots in your garden and thoroughly mix them together. Take some samples and put them in the containers provided in the soil test kit.
Pour water into the containers and shake vigorously until it mixes with the soil and changes color. Observe and compare the color of the water to the sheet provided and identify the nutrients and pH.
The soil test kits are used to check the Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K), and check Ph levels. Test kits can be obtained online on Amazon or local gardening stores.
You can also send your soil samples to a soil sampling firm or a university’s lab for more accurate results.
- Amend the Soil
After testing the soil and obtaining the results, the next step is amending the soil to replenish the missing nutrients or characteristics. The soil ought to be amended at least 3 weeks before planting vegetables. This can be done during fall or winter.
If your issue is how to make the best vegetable garden soil, amending the soil is one of the first steps to take. Amending the soil also involves removing any undesirable substances in the soil such as rocks, sticks, and weeds.
You can use a rake to remove these elements including the weed’s roots which can grow back later. Weed roots should not be put in compost bins because they are likely to grow back. Do not worry if all branches or leaves or rocks are not removed from the soil. Some of these can act as organic matter for the soil.
If your soil is clay, you can add gypsum which will help in breaking it apart. Gypsum mineral not only helps loosen the soil up but also add nutrients such as Calcium and Sulphur.
To amend sandy soils or lower the Ph, add about 4 inches of compost. This compost or manure also helps add nutrients to the soil, helps retain some moisture, and enhances the right level of drainage. The compost should be mixed thoroughly with soil after adding the 4-inch layer. You can either make compost or buy online on Amazon or a gardening store.
Remember to test the pH and drainage of the soil after adding the compost to determine if more amendments are to be done.
You also need to fertilize the soil to add more nutrients. This can be achieved by using an NPK fertilizer as outlined earlier. Mix the fertilizer with the soil so that the nutrients will be released.
NB: Adding excess fertilizer in soil that already has nutrients is likely to make the plants weaker.
- Till Garden Rows
This is the last step in preparing the soil for planting vegetables. The fertile soil should be tilled into rows at a specific spacing depending on the type of vegetable to be planted. For example, potatoes should be planted in trenches that are about 6-8 inches. The space between each potato should be 12-15 inches and the rows should be 3 feet wide.
Research on the spacing for the type of vegetable you want to plant. This is followed by planting the vegetables and taking care of them including watering and weed control.
That is basically how to prepare soil for planting vegetables. There are various soil preparation methods but the ones covered here are the main ones from digging, soil testing, and soil amendment.
These methods ensure that the soil is ready for planting and growing vegetables. It has the required nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium as well as other desirable characteristics such as the correct pH and proper drainage.
May you have a bountiful harvest in your vegetable garden.