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Vijai Pandian column: Prepping the garden soil

1:24 PM, May 2, 2013  |  Comments
Good soil is one of the key factors for a successful garden. To improve your soil structure, add organic matter every spring and work it out well in to the soil before planting. Thea Langrehr, 3, right, and Ava Botterman, 4, pick through soil in a wheelbarrow while Gene Sauer works in his garden on Vinland Street in Oshkosh.
Good soil is one of the key factors for a successful garden. To improve your soil structure, add organic matter every spring and work it out well in to the soil before planting. Thea Langrehr, 3, right, and Ava Botterman, 4, pick through soil in a wheelbarrow while Gene Sauer works in his garden on Vinland Street in Oshkosh.
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Good soil is one of the key factors for a successful garden. Most vegetables prefer well-drained soil that has optimum water holding capacity, relatively neutral soil pH, is able to adsorb nutrients, and has better aeration in the soil pores. Unfortunately most garden soils in Brown County are hard and crusty, which doesn't allow better root penetration and doesn't drain well during the wet season. To improve your soil structure, add organic matter every spring and work it out well in to the soil before planting.

Organic matter composes a complex array of carbon compounds that are derived from various decomposing stages of plant and animal remains by microbes. Common organic matters that are used in the garden soil amendments are rotten manure, compost, peat moss, chopped dried leaves, and green manure. These organic matters have better water holding capacity, nutrient adsorption characteristics, and allow aeration and drainage of excess water. Another benefit of organic matter is that it can increase the beneficial microbes in the soil to counteract some harmful plant root rot pathogens. However, gardeners have to be cautious in using partially composted materials, as it may have weed seeds. Certain sewage sludge products are not recommended as it may contain metals and organic chemicals.

Typically organic matter content in the vegetable garden soil should be more than 5 percent. A soil test can reveal the organic matter content in your existing garden soil, plus it also provides nutrient information of phosphorous and potassium levels and the existing soil pH level. It is recommended to do a soil test once every five years before prepping the garden soil.

In mid to late spring, spread organic matter in the garden soil to a depth of 2 to 4 inches and plough it to a depth of 6 inches. Do not work the soil when it is too wet. A simple way to determine the best timing to work the soil is by squeezing a handful of dirt in your palm. If you can roll the soil to a ball formation that crumbles easily when you gently tap it, then it indicates that the soil is ready for tilling. Though organic matter has numerous benefits, it does not provide complete nutrients for plant growth. Adding extra nutrient in the form of organic or inorganic fertilizers is necessary. Fertilizers should be incorporated at least a week (inorganic fertilizer) or two weeks (organic fertilizer) before planting to a depth of 2 to 4 inches. When the planting day arrives, loosen the garden soil again with a rake or harrow to a fine granular structure and level the soil. Schedule the planting in a cloudy windless day or perhaps late in the afternoon. Early May is the best time to plant cool season crops like broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kale, leaf lettuce, mustards, onion, pea, potato, radish, spinach, and turnip.

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