If you are a complete beginner or you simply didn’t pay attention, it may sound strange to you that planting vegetables requires much more attention. Although we have established the importance of good preparation of soil for planting in a previous article, it occurred to me that there is much more to preparing soil when you are planting vegetables.
I have been chatting with my friends that I have met through gardening and they have been so kind to share their tips on how to prepare the soil for planting vegetables specifically. Thanks to their tips and years of my gardening experience I have decided to write this guide for you, that revolves more around vegetables.
Depending on whether you have an indoor or an outdoor garden, you can implement various different segments of it in your gardening routine. Without further ado, here is the sum of knowledge that my fellow friends and I have to share with you.
Take A Soil Test
We all know that soil contains nutrients, fungi and other microscopic things that plants need to grow successfully. Most of us tend to use fertilizers and compost, but how do we determine what does the soil for planting vegetables we’re working with lack? Well, luckily for us, this handy little thing called “soil test” exists and it can tell you (almost) all about your soil!
There are two methods to test the soil. You can either buy one of those inexpensive soil testing kits and do it all by yourself at home, or you can consult the experts. To do that, you should bring a soil sample with you to the lab made specifically for soil testing. Whichever method you choose, at the end of testing you will have an overview of the current soil condition.
This makes a great starting point for any gardener because it gives you the exact PH level, level of potassium, phosphorus, soluble salts and many more. However, if you’re trying to find out if there are any chemical residues, diseases or insects in the soil, then the basic soil test won’t be enough for you. Instead, you should ask for specific tests for the things you’ re looking to find in your soil.
Modify The PH
When it comes to planting vegetables, the PH plays a massive role. It regulates the nutrients and minerals in the soil. It also affects the capability of plants to absorb those nutrients. Therefore, finding the right PH level and maintaining it can lead to the successful growth of your vegetables.
If you don’t know much about PH, the PH scale ranges from 0 to 14. It starts from the extremely acidic 0, and it comes to extremely alkaline 14, with the neutral middle, which is 7 on this scale. Usually, unless there are some chemical residues in it, the soil reaches neither the upper or the lower limit. The typical garden soil has a PH level somewhere between 5 and 9 on the scale.
Here is the list of my favorite soil meters, so if you wish to get any for yourself, you can check some of these. You won’t be disappointed, trust me.
Although some plants may prefer slightly different PH level, the ideal level for most of the plants falls between 6.0 and 6.5. This type of soil is slightly acidic, but not too much so it won’t hurt the plants. The reason why the plants prefer this level is that the microbial activity is highest when the soil is in this range. Also, the roots of the plants can access nutrients better when the soil is slightly acidic.
After the tests have shown you the PH level of your soil, you may find that the soil isn’t in ideal conditions in terms of PH level. To get it in the perfect condition you will need the so-called “soil amendments”.
Raise or lower the PH
Depending on the test results, you can decide whether you need to raise or lower the PH. If your soil is too acid and you wish to raise soil PH, add pulverized limestone to it. A great substitute for the lime (or pulverized limestone) is wood ash.
If, on the other hand, the results have shown that your soil is too alkaline, you will need some soil amendments to lower its PH. You can do this by adding some sulphur or peat or adding organic materials. The last option is the best one in my opinion, especially if you have more time since it changes the PH level gradually. But above all, organic materials will improve the overall soil quality, and therefore I strongly advise you to use them.
Just make sure to follow the instructions on the materials you choose to use to avoid bringing the PH level of your soil on the opposite side of the scale. Also, once you’ve added the soil amendments, it would be best if you tested the soil once again, to make sure that it is in the right range.
Soil Structure And Drainage
Testing your soil for nutrients and PH isn’t enough, there is one thing you shouldn’t miss, and it’s testing the soil for its structure. Now, this test is really simple, and it doesn’t require any equipment, just your bare hands.
Take a bit of soil and rub it between your fingers whilst paying attention to its consistency. If the soil feels grainy, you have sandy soil. If, on the other hand, it feels smooth and it resembles powdery consistency it is a hundred percent a silty soil. There is also clay soil, and you can recognize it because it feels really harsh when it’s dry, but once you add water to it, it becomes very smooth and slippery.
The structure of the soil has a great role in growing your plants successfully. When preparing the soil for planting vegetables you should really test the soil carefully. The reason for this is that the soil that holds too much water can easily lead to fungal infections and rotting, while the one that doesn’t hold enough water can lead to dehydrated plants. The great news is, whichever type of soil you have, you can easily adjust it!
If you’re working with clay soil, you can improve its texture and drainage capacity by adding coarse sand, compost, and peat moss. If you have sandy soil, you’ll need something that holds the water. The best options are humus or aged manure. Peat moss is, once again, a great choice. Also, you can mix in some soil that is rich with clay to improve the sandy soil quality. Silty soil hardly ever requires any improvements, but if it feels too slippery then adding some coarse sand could be a life-saver. Also, adding a bit of compost never hurt!
Nutrients And Fertilizers
When it comes to growing delicious vegetables, knowing nutrients is a key factor. There are three macronutrients that are, simply, a must for every plant.
For example, Nitrogen helps to get a strong leaf and stem and gives them a very dark green color, which you may want in broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, and salads. If you want to raise the Nitrogen levels in your soil, add some aged manure to it or add some blood meal or seaweed.
Phosphorus promotes the early plant growth, and it has great importance for edible plants that develop after the flowers have been pollinated. Some of these vegetables are cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes. If you want quick results, add some bone meal. If you are not looking for quick results, you can add phosphate which has a slow release.
Potassium helps plants to get stronger roots, it makes them more resistant to diseases, and it also enhances the flavor. This makes it extremely good for any vegetables that grow under the ground, such as carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes. If you want to increase potassium, add greensand, wood ashes or gypsum to the soil.
As far as the fertilizers go, I would try and stay away from the ones that claim to contain every nutrient. Instead, I would use organic matters to promote soil health. Compost is always a great option, but there are so many things you can add to the soil to improve its quality. But, if you want to use fertilizers, I would recommend the slow release ones you add before you plant your vegetables. This way you’ll be sure that your soil doesn’t lack nutrients and you’ll also avoid burning the plants, which can happen if you exaggerate with liquid fertilizer.
1. What are the best soil amendments to improve overall soil quality?
Well, compost is on the top of the list for me. However, be careful with it since it can lower the PH. If you want to improve the soil structure, then I would suggest bark and leaf mold. Leaf mold is especially great if you want to add nutrients. Manure and peat moss are also great for improving soil condition.
2. How will mulching help?
Mulching can help you protect your plants from frost, and it also keeps the moisture from evaporating. Another thing it’s very useful for, it keeps the weeds at bay! My personal favorite is hay. It is organic and very inexpensive, and it gives you enough protection.
I hope that this guide gave you enough information on how to prepare the soil for planting vegetables. You may notice that I’ve skipped some steps here, such as adding water. I thought that this might be a bit too much information for a single article and I don’t like to repeat myself. You can find a general “how to prepare the soil for planting” article on my blog, where I covered all of the essential steps.
Do you grow vegetables? How do you prepare the soil for planting them? Feel free to comment and share your tips with my readers and me!