The success of a vegetable garden depends on the preliminaries. Much like priming a wall before you paint, the care with which you prepare the soil and the plants is the foundation on which any garden is built. Follow these steps for a healthy garden from the ground up.
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Prepare Plant Beds
If possible, clear and prepare beds in fall for spring planting, or prepare the beds in spring when the soil is workable (moist but not muddy -- a handful of soil formed into a ball should break apart when it is dropped from chest level). Clear the area of any debris and weeds, and strip away the sod. Use a spade or fork to dig the soil to a depth of 12 to 14 inches, incorporating a 3- to 4-inch layer of compost or rotted manure, along with any amendments recommended in your soil test. Rake the soil until is level. Loose, well-aerated soil allows water and oxygen to reach the plants' roots quickly. If your soil is poor, consider building raised beds described on the next slide.
Raised beds are ideal for growing vegetables on sites with difficult soils. They warm quickly in spring, encourage good drainage and air circulation, and are easy to maintain. Creating a raised bed can be as simple as tilling the existing soil, incorporating organic matter, and mounding it neatly to form a bed.
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Things we often throw away -- grass clippings, coffee grinds, and vegetable peels -- can provide a constant source of fertilizer and soil conditioner for your vegetables. Compost also helps make soil more absorbent, reducing the need for watering. Plus, the composting process is easy, inexpensive, and a great way to add nutrients back into the garden.