Preparing Soil for Spring Planting

by: Sara on 03/27/2017
Posted in: Gardening

Here on the west coast we are aching to dig in and get gardening. Normally at this time of year we are watching our peas and greens sprouting the garden, but do to an unusually cold, wet winter we are just getting started.

One task we can start on is improving our soil for the coming growing season. Below find some tips on soil amendments from Steve Solomon's book Gardening When it Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times.

Soil improving in a nutshell

You will almost certainly have a reasonably productive garden if once a year (usually in spring), before planting crops, you spread and dig in the following materials for the type of vegetables you are growing.

Low-Demand Veggies

¼” (6 mm) layer sacked steer manure or ¼” finished compost

50 lb/1,000 square ft (25 kg/100 m2) lime(s) spade, rake, plant ¼” layer steer manure or ¼” finished compost

4 qt COF (complete organic fertilizer)/100 square ft (4 L/10 m2) spade, rake, plant

Medium-Demand Veggies

¼” (6 mm) layer sacked steer manure or ¼” finished compost 1/8” (3 mm) layer composted chicken manure 50 lb/1,000 square ft (25 kg/100 m2) lime(s) spade, rake, plant

OR (this is far better)

¼” layer steer manure or ¼” finished compost

4 to 6 qt. COF/100 square ft (4–6 L/10 m2) spade, rake, plant

High-Demand Veggies

½” (12 mm) layer sacked steer manure or ½” finished compost ¼” (6 mm) layer composted chicken manure

50 lb/1,000 square ft (25 kg/100 m2) lime(s) spade, rake, plant

½” layer steer manure or ½” finished compost

4 to 6 qt. COF/100 square ft (4–6 L/10 m2) spade, rake, plant

These recommendations are minimums for growing low-, medium-, and high-demand vegetables on all soil types except heavy clays. Excessive liming can be harmful to soil. Do not use more than I recommend. COF is potent! Use no more than recommended here.

However, it is always wise to exceed the amounts of manure and compost I suggest in this table by half again or double if you can afford to. No matter how much organic matter you may have available, do not apply more than double the amount recommended here or you’ll risk unbalancing your soil’s mineral content. If you think your vegetables aren’t growing well enough, do not remedy that with more manure or compost; fix it with COF.

Steer manure: Sacked steer manure is commonly heaped in front of supermarkets in springtime at a relatively low price per bag. However, this material may contain semi-decomposed sawdust and usually has little fertilizing value. It does feed soil microbes and improves soil structure, which helps roots breathe. And it has been at least partially composted; it is not raw manure. It is useful if not hugely over applied.

Chicken manure: Chicken manure in sacks (which has been somewhat composted but is not labeled “compost”) or “chicken manure compost” is far better stuff than weak steer manure for fertilizing the veggie patch, but take care not to overuse it. The product I used to buy before I switched exclusively to COF was labeled with an NPK of 4-3-2, potent stuff. 

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