Garden Plans and Soil Prep

By Patricia Zick @PCZick


Most folks are planning and readying the soil for planting. We’ve had things in the ground here in southwestern Pennsylvania for several weeks now. But last night, a frost was predicted so we covered some of the plants. They’re predicting the same for tonight so the sheets will remain in place.

I’m busy readying From Seed to Table for publication. Here’s an excerpt:

Garden Planning

Two words define our garden planning: We don’t. Our garden plans us. It’s not necessarily a haphazard affair, but it isn’t something we draw out on paper before the spring gardening season begins. Robert goes to the garden and begins preparing the soil wherever it seems most likely to put plants. He changes the location for some plants every year. For instance, tomatoes and most plants do better if they aren’t grown in the same dirt every year. It’s late winter as I write this section of the book. He’s placed clear plastic over one raised bed before the rain makes it too wet to work. He plants the first of the onions in this area as soon as the soil is dry enough and the freezes stop. His chosen spot for onions this year is the spot where peppers grew last year. The peppers didn’t produce much during 2012, so here’s hoping the peppers benefit from the change in location. The onions grew in abundance in 2012, and as of April 2013, we’re still eating the onions stored in the basement. I’m hoping the change in location will yield the same results for onions this year.

If you’re a planner and plotter, then the books with a chapter on garden planning will benefit you.

Soil Preparation

We don’t test our soil. Robert knows instinctively what the dirt needs when he begins working in the garden, and it’s a function of the moisture in the ground. When the soil dries out, it’s time to start working the beds for the plants ready to go into the garden. He starts planting from mid-March on in most years.???????????????????????????????

We’ve been gardening in the same spot for four seasons, so the soil is well conditioned. Robert might not use the rotor tiller this year. It’s not good to break up the soil too much, so now that the soil is in good condition, he hopes he can use a shovel and pickaxe to turn over and break up the soil. Before he turns the soil, he’ll use a well-rounded organic fertilizer mix of nitrogen, potassium (also known as potash), and phosphorus. It’s important to amend the soil with these organics because it’s essential to the growth of plants and is usually not in sufficient quantities in most soils. As he’s making the beds, he sprinkles the organic fertilizers, dolomitic limestone, green sand, and pulverized phosphate rock. The mix of these organic and inorganic additions forms a dusty layer on top of the bed. He blends it all in with a pick approximately eight inches deep.

Usually every other year, he applies mushroom manure and sand. He gauges this application by how “friable” the soil is. He can tell it’s friable and ready for the root growth of plants, if he clumps it in his palm and the soil falls apart. That means the soil is loose enough without applying the manure or sand. Also, be careful about putting the mushroom manure on seedlings such as peas. Our peas didn’t grow through this top dressing so well last year, and Robert believes it may not have been composted enough, so it burned the seedlings. If the manure is worked into the soil deep enough, this would not have been a problem.

peas reach for the sky
peas reach for the sky

Published by P. C. Zick

I write. It's as simple and as complicated as that. Storytelling creates our cultural legacy.

4 thoughts on “Garden Plans and Soil Prep

  1. We had snow in May (can you believe it) so we’re just getting the garden ready now. We don’t have anything in yet. I feel behind. I can’t wait until everything’s done and I see the fruits of our labor. Scratch that… until we’re eating the fruits of our labor!


    1. No, I can’t believe you had snow in May. We’ve been eating lettuce from the garden and soon spinach. But we’ve had to cover things the last two nights because of freezing temps. Snowflakes fell during the Pirates game last night. But enough of that – Go Pens!


  2. How on earth did you have time to write another book? Good for you. We don’t really plan our garden either. We’ve just finished planting a bunch of seeds, vegetables and flowers. Some are already sprouting. It’s exciting!


    1. The new book is basically a compilation of my blog posts with transitions and recipes for each season. The hardest part is pulling together the photographs. I don’t organize my files properly so I waste a lot of time finding the photos to match the season and recipe. I need an assistant!


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