Soil feeds your plants. Without a good soil base your plants will do poorly. They may be thin, have yellow leaves, be more insect prone or just stop growing.
Soil differs from location to location. In my zone five area I have clay and rock, plenty of rock! Although the soil is a little high in acid it is very rich in nutrients. But every year I fight the return of rocks and if I make a new garden I am again reminded of how I need to improve my soil.
If your new to gardening or are making a new garden plot I suggest you take soil samples and have them tested at your local Extension Office. Soil kits can be bought at most garden centers and at most Extension Offices. Instructions will come with the kit on how to take samples but basically you take three or four scoops of soil from you new garden plot and place in a bag and drop off the samples to be tested. They will tell you what your soil consists of and what to add to make you plants grow better.
Soil needs the three basic nutrients; Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.
Nitrogen is the building block of chlorophyll and several other important enzymes. If your soils lacks nitrogen your plants will have pale green or yellow leaves and in extreme case wither and fall over. You can easily add nitrogen to your soil by adding organic matter. More than 90 percent of all gardens are lacking the proper amounts of nitrogen.
So nitrogen fuels your plants.
Phosphorus distributes the energy that is stored up in the soil to the plants. Phosphorus can be added to your soil by mined phosphate rock, bone meal or phosphate fertilizers. Compost helps too.
I add bone meal to my garden each spring and my phosphorus level is fine!
Potassium (referred to as K on plant food) regulates the process of plant food creation so it is also very important to plant growth and health. you can add green sand or granite dust if your soil lacks potassium. Other sources are green manure crops like rye grass and buck wheat. Wood ash also helps. I add buckwheat and wood ash to my garden each year.
Once you know what your garden is lacking you can pick up a good fertilizer with these nutrients at any garden center.
Where to start
If your starting your garden layout now and know where you garden will be you can plant winter grass covers that you will work into the ground. Buckwheat or rye grass would be such grass covers. Plant the cover crops and when they are mature work them into the ground. They will decompose and add nutrients into the soil.
Another fast and easy way to help your garden out before you take the test is by adding compost materials such as leaves, grass clippings, straw, compost, or old matured saw dust or manure. I always add these materials in the fall and again in early spring.
It is very important to use old matured sawdust and fertilizer. Both if they are fresh are high in acid as they break down and will burn you seedlings. Also fresh manure may carry weed seeds ans you may add a problem to your garden if it has not aged!
How I set up a new garden
Rototillers can be hard on soil and there is mixed opinions on if you should rototill or hand dig. To tell you the truth, I use both methods. If the soil looks like its easily workable I prefer to dig the ground by hand with a process called double digging. If the soil looks like its heavy clay, rock or packed I get out the rototiller. My back can only take so much and it is faster.
I chose my spot by how close it is to a water source and how much sun the garden gets. An average garden should get at least six to eight hours of sun a day. My tomatoes and peppers I place in an area where they get more sun, 10 to 12 if possible.
I cut the sod of the top of the garden area and haul it to the compost pile. This way I know I have removed a lot of the weeds. The soil breaks down in the compost pile and I wither add it to the garden in the spring or use it in planters. Then I rototill or hand dig the area. Once the soil is broken up I add any compost items and work them in well. I have spare black plastic I keep on hand and cover the garden area to help heat the area and speed up the composting process. in the early spring I uncover the area and work the soil and add more compost matter, compost and any nutrients I need.
My garden is ready to go! Check out my first Square Foot Gardening post