May garden update part 1: Soil!

There’s so many things that I love about growing my own food.  It’s a great learning experience, a great way to get outside, and oh man… home grown tomatoes.  Enough said.  2012 was an AWESOME gardening year for me and Brian.  We had an epic balcony garden for the first time ever and we finally got into a community garden.  We started planning out our garden for 2013 a few weeks ago and last week, we got the first plants in!

Photo Credit: KoryeLogan via Flickr

Photo Credit: KoryeLogan via Flickr

In warmer climates, I’m sure people already have had their plants in for a while.  But here in Vancouver, our growing season is a bit shorter.  And, to be honest, community gardens aren’t the fastest bunch of people to mobilize.   😉  Before you can start planting, it’s important to prepare your garden space appropriately.

Garden soil matters!

One mistake new gardeners often make is using the incorrect soil mix.  When you’re growing food plants, you need a rich soil in order to get all the nutrients they need to produce plump delicious fruits and verdant, leafy vegetation.  There’s lots of different combinations you can go for, but I work with these guidelines:

Check your existing soil

Your soil may be perfectly fine to work with and just need a little bit extra to get it ready.  To test, take a handful of dirt and squeeze.  Does it clump nicely before falling apart? Does it feel moist?  Or is it dry and sandy and fall through your fingers?  Good soil should not form a chunky ball, but it should be substance when you hold it.  Soil that doesn’t want to stick together (at least a little bit) is usually too dry for most plants.

When we went to the community garden plots last week, I was pleased to find that our soil was in pretty good condition.  I could run my hands through it and feel substance, but it was not sticking together in hard, unworkable clumps.  The very top layer was a bit dry and overworked, however, so I removed that.

All purpose is alright

If you do need to top up your soil or if you are starting a new garden, you will need to decide what kind of soil to buy.  A multipurpose indoor-outdoor planting mix is perfectly acceptable as a garden soil base.  I look for a balanced mixture that is not too acidic – you can always customize it later on.

Make sure you check the peat content of your soil mixture – The more peat, the more the soil retains water.  Here in Vancouver, I like a little bit of peat for the hotter summer months, but not too much peat because you never know when you’ll have torrential rain for 2 weeks straight.

Customize, customize, customize

I like to add a bit extra to my base garden soil mixture to give it lots of nutrients and richness.  To prepare for my seedlings, I added an organic fish compost (I did NOT make this myself, thank God) and mixed it well into the planters.  Compost adds organic matter to the soil that is often loss throughout the growing season.  Then, in the top layer of my planter, I added a shallow layer of pre-composted manure to provide lots of phosphates and nitrogen.

And with that… I was basically ready to start planting!

Stay tuned for part 2…. seedlings!

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