Soil, good soil, is the foundation of good gardening. Whether you are a beginner gardener or an experienced one, understanding the soil used for gardening is very important. This is especially true when it comes to vegetable gardening. Unlike other plants grown for environmental and aesthetic purposes, vegetables have a more imperative role in our health and wellbeing.
Vegetables thrive exceptionally when you strike the perfect balance of water, air, light, and soil. While all these happen to be free goods, with soil, additional keenness in the way you handle, rejuvenate, and care for it goes a long way in ensuring your vegetables receive all the requisite nutrients.
Most experts will tell you when planting your vegetables in a container, backyard, or garden soil is detrimental for your plants, as it may possess harmful elements such as disease, weed seeds, and even lack the proper organic matter to support the development of the plants. It is true. Nevertheless, what happens when you need to plant in your garden? Seriously? You cannot possibly throw in the towel because your garden soil is lacking. Here are some tips for attaining the best soil for vegetable gardening.
The type of soil for vegetable gardening
Sand, clay, and loam are the existing three types of soil. You can be able to distinguish which soil type is which by simply looking at or feeling it through your fingers. According to Green Matters, each type has its unique qualities that can be both valuable and somewhat destructive when it comes to gardening. Luckily, there are certain steps you can take to increase the workability of your soil.
This type of soil is very grainy and fluffy. You can easily tell it apart from how airy it appears to the eyes and how rocky it may feel when you touch it. Because of these qualities, sand soil has high aerating passageways that enable water and other nutrients to travel through to the roots of the plant. It also had great draining. When planting root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and radishes, sandy soil may favor their growth.
Something to note, however, is that sand soil lacks the nutrients vital to other plants and would require hefty buffing of the same. Alternatively, you can opt for heavier soils that have these nutrients.
This type of soil is heavy and appears greyish or ashy. Because of this, is able to provide sturdy anchorage for roots. Its compaction allows it to preserve moisture for much longer, which may be a boon for vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and chard. Clay however is deficient in the airways that let vital nutrients sip through to the plants. Additionally, plants like potatoes will strain for the roots to break through the soil.
Since it does not support drainage, if your garden has this type of soil, a suggestion would be to add a mix of vermiculite and perlite or work with raised bed gardens. Learn about raised bed vegetable gardening for beginners.
This would be the ideal soil type for vegetable gardening. Loam soil is a mixture of both of the above mentions soil and has quite a balance. Pretty much all your vegetables will do well on this soil. It is well-draining with an ability to hold on to moisture, rich with organic matter, and more often than not possesses the right pH.
Image courtesy: Milkwood Permaculture
This is simply the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. For most crops, the pH range between 6.5 and 7.5 is standard. Some vegetable crops such as collard greens, cucumber, and some berries can tolerate more acidity.
Before deciding which vegetables, you want to start with or add to your vegetable garden, you might want to consider having your soil tested. You can invite a professional or do it for yourself with a pH test kit purchased online.
With the pH of your soil in mind, you can proceed to plant the vegetables most friendly to the acidity or basicity of your soil. Keep in mind, neutral soil pH is the most desirable. According to Growveg, there are corrective measures to adjust your soil pH in the event of alternative results.
If you want to maintain or regain the pH balance of your vegetable garden, first you have to think organic. That means chemically manufactured additives cannot go into your soil, and only very scarcely if you have to. On the other hand, you can make your own compost at home with a zero-dollar budget. Use your kitchen scraps, eggshells, mulches, and ash, and remember to keep your compost moisturized.
Consider using manure instead from animals like cows, chickens, and rabbits. They are rich in living organisms such as worms that can supply your soil with productive nutrients that will in turn charge your vegetables when you plant them.
Organic fertilizers are also good. Use sulfur for alkaline soil and lime for acidic soil. In a few months, they will stabilize your soil pH. Chemical fertilizers act as a buffer for growing plants but fail to maintain the long-term health of the soil.
Mixing your garden soil, peat moss, which has a pH of 3 to 4.5, will efficiently amend your soil pH. Your acid-loving veggies will especially flourish. Vermiculite or perlite is a chemically inert mineral that has an almost neutral pH. This mix further has moisture retention abilities (peat moss) and aeration and nutrients retention benefits (Vermiculite).
Protecting the soil
Mulching materials like wood and bark chippings, straw, hay, leaf mold, newspapers, sand, and stone go a long way in protecting your vegetable garden soil. Choose the mulch that works and is readily available for you, and layer them up on the surface of your garden soil to prevent compacting, soil erosion, and weed menace. Mulching also helps to trap moisture in your soil, which is imperative for your crops to be healthy.
Another method to protect your soil is green manure. This is merely planting a cover crop before planting your vegetables to protect the bare soil. This also ensures weed does not inhabit your vegetable garden and soil dispersion does not occur. In addition to that, some cover crops like peas and other legumes can significantly supplement your soil with nitrogen. When using this method, deliberate on crops with heavy foliage, as they should blanket the soil effectively. Examples of cover crops are Sudan grass, peas, buckwheat, oats, groundnuts, and more.
Try crop rotation. If you are planting carrots, cucumbers, kales, potatoes, and onions in that order in your vegetable garden this season, take care to interchange the order or the type of crops the next season. It reduces erosion, combats weed infestation, and keeps your soil healthy for the next growing crops.
Preparing vegetable gardening soil
You have already decided to embark on the vegetable gardening journey, you already know the type of soil you are working with, you have tested the pH of your soil, and have the tips to improve and protect your soil. Now you just have to plant your yummy veggies, right? Wrong. Before you put your seeds and plants into the ground, you have to prepare the soil. This section details that for you in six simple steps.
Step 1. Size
Assuming you have already picked a location for your vegetable garden –which must have exposure to sunlight, ample root room, and access to water –it is time to consider the size of your vegetable garden. Unlike raised bed gardening [LINK], the size of your garden can be as small or big as you want. However, for beginners, you may want to go for a smaller garden and not risk taking on too much.
The size of your garden is important because it will inform the type of crops you plant, the frequency and amount of watering and feeding you require for the nourishment of your veggies. Plants like sweet potatoes demand large spaces for root development, enough moisture, and nutrients absorption. Likewise, your herbs will be more manageable in smaller portions of the garden, as they will optimize the feed and moisture without burning or rotting the roots from excesses.
Step 2. Digging and crumbling
Ensure to do this at least two weeks before planting. Use a garden hoe or spade in the smaller gardens to turn the crust of the soil and mix with layers beneath. Fluff the solid soil to even particles that will make it easier to perform the next steps. This will especially be easy with loam soil, which is naturally crumbly.
Step 3. Work on drainage
Your soil needs to be well-drained to retain enough moisture without being soggy and muddy. You need to test the effectiveness of your soil drainage so that it is not damaging to your plants later. Refer to discussion on fixing drainage matters on heavy soils like clay LINK.
To examine how well-draining your soil is, Wikihow suggests digging a sizeable hole and filling it with water using your hose. After that leave it overnight and if the water is gone by the morning then you know the drainage works. If a lot of the water is still present, then your garden soil is likely going to give you drainage frustration that will also affect the wellness of your plants and you should do something about it.
However, if the water drained so much that the hole appears dry like there was never water in it, then you also need to rectify that, as good vegetable garden soil should have some moisture retention abilities. This may happen with sandy soil whose qualities make it difficult to hold water. Always remember that it is all a delicate balance of enough.
Step 4. Fertilizing
Be careful with this particular step. Fertilizing increases the nutrients in your soil. However, you may not always need to fertilize your soil, especially when it comes to chemical fertilizers that may alter the quality of your soil. Add compost when preparing the vegetable garden for the very first time of planting and rely on organic methods like those mentioned earlier for the health longevity of your soil. After that, replenish your soil again in the next planting season. You may do this once or twice a year depending on your garden soil and crop needs.
Step 5. Make row and room
Plant your vegetables in clear and clean rows with ease of access. Try to prevent the soil from the sides of the rows from collapsing back into the space where your crop will go. It can be detrimental to your buds when it falls and buries them or breaks their undeveloped sprouts and shoots. You can try to pad evenly the soil on either side to make it firmer.
Make certain not to step off your soil when gardening because that compacts the soil and denies it the appropriate aeration it requires. In addition, you can also drag weed agents back into the soil you worked so hard to protect. Hence leaving room for you to operate comfortably in your garden without kneeling or stepping on it.
Step 6. Mulching
Add mulching materials between your rows and pathways around your vegetable garden to protect your soil from weeds. Mulches act as a barrier for weed seeds to have direct access to your soil top and even keeps them from taking root on the soil. You will need to keep an eye out for when your mulches start to decompose –which is also good for your soil– so that you may layer on some more.
After these steps, planting can ensue. Remember to incorporate other essentials apart from soil that support and sustains plant growth. Now hurry on and get that vegetable garden started.
Type of soil;
Sand, clay, and loam.
Acidity or alkalinity of the soil.
Neutral is best for vegetable gardening.
Protecting your soil: Organic methods of soil enrichment;
Mulching, compost, animal manure, green manure, crop rotation.
Decide location and size
Dig and crumble garden soil