Preparing the Soil
Good soil for growing vegetables must be protected by proper
cultivation, use of organic matter, maintenance of soil fertility,
and control of plant pests. Properly prepared soil provides a
desirable medium for root development, absorbs water and air
rapidly, and usually does not crust badly.
Tillage practices do not automatically create good garden soil.
Tillage is needed to control weeds, mix mulch or crop residues
into the soil, and alter soil structure. Unnecessary tillage
increases crusting on the soil surface, and if the soil is wet,
tillage compacts it.
Fertility requirements differ between long and short growing
seasons and among soil types. In almost every State, the Extension
Service will test soils and provide fertilizer recommendations.
Plant pests compete with garden crops and impair their growth.
These pests include weeds, insects, fungi, bacteria, viruses, and
They must be controlled or the garden will not succeed.
However, chemical controls must be used carefully to prevent
damage to neighboring crops or subsequent crops. When mechanical
and chemical controls do not work, crops that are resistant to the
pests should be planted in the area for a season or two.
The time and method of preparing the garden for planting depend
on the type of soil and the location. Heavy clay soils in the
northern sections are frequently benefited by fall plowing and
exposure to freezing and thawing during the winter, but when the
garden is cover cropped, it should not be plowed until early
spring. In general, garden soils should be cover cropped during
the winter to control erosion and to add organic matter. Gardens
in the dry land areas should be plowed and left rough in the fall,
so that the soil will absorb and retain moisture that falls during
Sandy soils, as a rule, should be cover-cropped, then
spring-plowed. Whenever there is a heavy sod or growth of cover
crop, the land should be plowed well in advance of planting and
the soil disked several times to aid in the decay and
incorporation of the material. Land receiving applications of
coarse manure either before or after plowing should have the same
Soils should not be plowed or worked while wet unless the work
will certainly be followed by severe freezing weather. Sandy soils
and those containing high proportions of organic matter � peats
and mucks for example � bear plowing and working at higher
moisture content than do heavy clay soils. The usual test is to
squeeze together a handful of soil.
If it sticks together in a ball and does not readily crumble
under slight pressure by the thumb and finger, it is too wet for
plowing or working. When examining soil to determine if it is dry
enough to work, samples should be taken both at and a few inches
below the surface. The surface may be dry enough, but the lower
layers too wet, for working. Soil that sticks to the plow or to
other tools is usually too wet. A shiny, unbroken surface of the
turned furrow is another indication of a dangerously wet soil
Fall-plowed land should be left rough until spring, when it may
be prepared by disking, harrowing, or other methods. Spring-plowed
land should be worked into a suitable seedbed immediately after
plowing. Seeds germinate and plants grow more readily on a
reasonably fine, well-prepared soil than on a coarse, lumpy one,
and thorough preparation greatly reduces the work of planting and
caring for the crops.
It is possible, however, to overdo the preparation of some
heavy soils. They should be brought to a somewhat granular rather
than a powdery fine condition for planting. Spading instead of
plowing is sometimes advisable in preparing small areas, such as
beds for extra-early crops of lettuce, onions, beets, and carrots.
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