Preparing your garden space is a
good life lesson. The more time and trouble you take getting your ground ready,
the better your harvest will be. Children and teenagers need to know the
important of patience and perseverance. So spending a lot of time with them
preparing your garden site and the soil is a good way to model those important
Here's an excellent work session for
your garden club. It will be more meaningful to the students months from when
you start, to see how their diligent garden prep pays off in great results!
Before you start to work, be sure to
review the lessons on Garden Safety and Garden Tools in the "Garden Practices"
category on www.KidsGardenClub.org
you have the luxury of planning ahead, it's best to prepare your garden site in
the fall of the year. Then the soil amendments - most importantly, the rotted
manure that you probably will want to add, for fertile soil - has plenty of
time to adjust to its new status as a garden instead of a lawn or whatever the
space was previously.
Of course you can get your garden
ready the day before you plant, but your back will hurt on planting day . . .
and you're likely to have weed problems later on.
So if at all possible, get your
garden ground ready to go a few months before you actually plant.
If you are making raised beds, with
lumber and imported soil or compost, it's a different story, and you CAN create
the raised beds shortly in advance of planting. You won't be wrestling with
long-established grass and weeds, so your problems will be fewer. Still, leave
yourself as much time as possible between building the bed and planting in it,
to let the soil settle and water it a few times and re-rake to keep the surface
as flat as possible.
Back to those who are not making
permanent raised beds:
For a square or rectangular garden,
measure your garden space and drive stakes connected by string to get your
edges straight and corners square. You can "chalk" a line with spilled flour or
ground white limestone, available at garden centers.
For a round or oval garden, lay out
a garden hose or rope to create a smooth curve.
Remove any bushes, big weeds, tree
roots, brush and rocks. You may need to use a hoe, shovel or pick ax. Mow the
site as short as you can. Water it thoroughly for a couple of days before you
dig up the sod.
Then, using a broad, flat spade,
push it just as horizontally as you can, into the sod, and lift up sections of
sod, exposing the bare soil. You need to strip away both the grass and the
roots. You can re-plant the sod somewhere else - just keep it watered every day
- or chop it up into your compost pile.
If you are able to do this task
several months in advance, you can lay down heavy rugs, carpet remnants, black
plastic, cardboard or other coverings, weighed down by rocks or boards, and
after a month or two, the grass and weeds should die down.
Water the dirt, and wait about 10
more days. Weeds should sprout. Hoe them away. Then you should have fairly
clean soil to work with.
Some people swear by tilling the
soil, and if they don't own a tilling machine, they rent or borrow a tiller to
aerate their garden soil.
Others prefer to leave the soil
infrastructure in place so that existing worms and other beneficial insects
aren't displaced. If you do this, you just add four to six pieces of newspaper
on each section of the garden, water it, cover it with a thick layer of clean
hay, and then dump rich compost on top. A few months later, you'll have a
lovely surface and the layers will have killed off any stubborn grass or weed
After testing your soil for its pH,
using an inexpensive kit available at a garden store, you'll likely want to add
limestone (to make it less acidic) or sulphur (to make it less alkaline). See
the next activity on soil testing for more information.
Then you'll want to dig in about two
or three inches of rotted compost, and maybe some rotted manure or leaf mold
(decomposed tree leaves) to improve your soil. Again, it's best to do this
about a month or more before planting, to give the air pockets time to form and
the worms and microorganisms to move in and start their magic, which can make
your plants so much healthier.
Just dump the compost and manure,
and use a garden fork or shovel to mix it in with the soil. Turn it well -
break up clumps - water it - let it sit - and turn it again.
Beware of adding too much manure:
quite often, the livestock that produced the manure ate a lot of weeds in their
pastures, and those weeds might have seeds which survive the composting process
and will sprout in your garden. Make sure the manure is fully composted for a
year or two. And avoid horse manure, since the hay that horses eat is likely to
have weed seeds, or may rob your soil of nitrogen as it decomposes further.
Last, but not least, you probably
will want to fence your garden. For more about that, see the article in
Practices -- #5, Building a Garden Fence.