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Posts Tagged ‘raised vegetable bed’

Small Kitchen Garden Soil-Preparation – 3

I’m fortunate to have a heap of mature compost accumulated over 13 years from lawn clippings, leaves, weeds, and kitchen scraps.

Preparing to plant a small kitchen garden in a classic raised bed should be very easy to do. Actually, whether raised or in-ground, the issue is more whether you walk in the planting bed. If you don’t walk in the planting bed, you don’t compact the soil (much) so you don’t need to dig deep and turn the soil as you do in a traditional in-ground planting bed.

The classic raised bed is narrow enough that you can reach every point in it without putting weight on the soil—usually not more than 4 feet across at its widest point (assuming you can reach into it from both sides). Depending on your sensibilities, preparing a narrow planting bed can resemble the low-till preparation that I described in my last post, or a traditional preparation as I described two posts back.

I “manage” compost in a heap. I say “manage” because there are only two procedures I follow: 1) Add organic matter as my yard, garden, and kitchen produce it. 2) Occasionally, toss a bit of soil from the garden onto the heap (this often comes as clumps of soil attached to roots of weeds I remove from the garden). My compost might take a year or longer to break down, but I’m not in a hurry. The liability of a compost heap is that it nurtures weeds; my heap grows mostly dandelions, thistle, and elephant grass. So, when I harvest compost, I pick through it looking for roots. On the left in this photo is a section of root from elephant grass; left in the soil, it’ll send up a gorgeous stand of grass leaves… and it’ll spread quickly underground. I can’t identify the root on the right, but it looks hearty; were I to plant it in my garden, I’m sure it would grow into something annoying.

Spread three inches of compost or manure evenly over the entire surface of the raised bed.

Ideally, autumn is when you start preparing raised beds for planting, but if you’re just getting started in the spring, things should work out just fine. Here are steps you can take to prepare your soil for planting if your beds are small enough that you never walk in them:

1. Excavate all weeds from the planting bed. A soil knife is ideal for this as you shouldn’t need to pry out large, cohesive blocks of compacted soil to get at the tap roots of weeds.

2. Cover the bed with a layer of organic matter. Ideally, use mature compost. Alternatively, use manure or mushroom soil. If you were preparing your raised planting bed at the end of your growing season, I’d encourage you to spread six inches of manure over the entire bed; rain and snow will leech nutrients into the soil and the organic material will break down a bit before spring.

However, if you didn’t add material in the fall, spread only about three inches of organic stuff on your raised bed in the spring. For the most part, you’ll leave this material in place; it will serve as mulch, and will feed a rich bath of nutrients to your vegetables’ roots during rainstorms and watering.

Measure along the retaining walls of your raised bed and attach twine (or yarn) to delineate planting zones. A one-foot by three-foot space might hold a “hedge” of lettuce, a small forest of spinach, or a jungle of pea vines… what to plant, and how much space to reserve depends on your tastes and your sensibilities. Upcoming posts will make specific suggestions about planting in raised beds.

If you need tools heftier than a hand trowel or a soil knife to work the soil in your raised beds, it may be because there’s too much clay in the soil. Add sand and humus and mix it in well to reduce the soil’s tendency to clump. If you’re installing raised beds this spring, fill them with soil that is at least 40% sand. Add humus every season.

3. Stretch twine to mark planting zones in your raised vegetable bed. You can set nails or staples in the tops of the raised bed retaining walls, or sink stakes in the soil as you would in an in-ground bed.

In a narrow bed, rather than restrict planting to rows, plant in zones. For example, in a 4’ X 4’ bed, a zone might start at one retaining wall and stretch for one foot into the bed. You could distribute lettuce plants evenly within this one-foot-by-four-foot zone. Or, divide the bed into 2’ squares, planting a particular type of vegetable in each square.

4. When you’re ready to plant, your technique will differ depending on whether you’re planting seedlings or seeds. An upcoming post will discuss how to plant in a narrow bed that’s covered with compost or manure.

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