Preparing Garden Beds

Preparing Garden Beds - shovel with soil

Fall is a great time to start preparing garden beds for the spring or to rehab your existing beds.  Here are a few tips to help you get your garden soil and beds back into top condition.

The Don’ts

Don’t remove the existing soil.  Leave what you have in place and work on making the existing soil healthier and more productive. 

Don’t add peat moss, pine bark, or washed concrete sand to your soil.  Each of these products has problems associated with an organic system.  Peat moss is anti-bacterial and can impede the growth of beneficial bacteria in the soil.  Peat moss is also an environmental disaster for those areas where it is mined.  Pine back doesn’t decompose well.  The resins in the bark are there to keep insects and other organisms from attaching the pine tree.  These resins continue to hinder the work of the organisms in the soil.  Washed concrete sand has had all the other minerals and agents washed away.  It brings nothing to the soil.

Don’t spray any synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.  If you haven’t stopped using synthetic chemicals in your landscape and garden, now is a good time to stop completely.

What to do

Preparing Garden Beds - Proper Tilling

Now on to the what-to-do list.  Healthy productive plants are dependent on healthy soil with a rich soil biome below the surface.  It is the importance of this sub-surface life that causes us to focus on our philosophy of “Feed the Soil, Not the Plant.”

We usually advocate a no-till approach to gardening and landscape.  In this case, however, a bit of judicially applied tilling can help you achieve your goal of healthy garden beds.  Before you begin the process, there are a few things to remember.

Minimize the soil disturbance as much as possible.  Till only enough to accomplish your goal.

Remove as many of the weeds and grasses in your garden beds as possible.  Removing weeds and grasses is especially important if you are trying to deal with bermudagrass.  Tilling will chop the rhizomes and stems of the Bermuda grass into tiny pieces, each of which has the potential to become a new plant.  These pieces are then distributed through the soil.  It will cause problems later on.

Following our suggestions will raise your beds 6 to 8 inches above their current level.  This is fine.  If you don’t have raised beds with walls, raising your beds, this small amount will make them more productive.

As you work your soil, try to walk on it as little as possible.  Even your weight will start the compaction process, which can slow down the growth of the soil biome.

Till 4 to 6 inches deep in your garden bed area. 

Adding Amendments

Preparing Garden Beds - Soil Amendment products

Our Recipe for soil amendments in garden beds

  • 4 to 6 inches of good quality compost.  We use composted cottonseed burrs
  • Lava sand applied at 10lbs per 100 sq ft.
  • Greensand or other rock minerals applied at 4lbs per 100 sq ft.
  • Whole ground cornmeal applied at 2lbs per 100 sq ft.
  • Worm casting (fresh if you can get them) applied at 2 lbs per 100 sq ft
  • Dry molasses applied at 5 lbs per 100 sq ft.

Apply all the amendments to your tilled garden bed and then carefully till them together until they are well mixed with the top layer of the existing soil.  Again, pay attention and try not to walk on the areas you have already tilled.

Once the soil is amended and tilled, apply 6 to 8 inches of wood chip mulch to the soil.  Mulching is especially important if you are preparing your beds in the fall for next spring. 

Water your beds gently.  Watering should be done slowly and spread over the area to simulate rainfall.  Water slowly to maximize infiltration into the soil.  Water through the mulch.

Fall Bed Preparation

If doing bed preparation in the fall, water your bed about once a month during the winter.   Pull back the mulch occasionally to check the condition of the soil under the mulch.  It should be damp but not sopping wet, and there should be evidence of life in the soil, such as worms and beetles.

Planting Immediately

If you intend to plant back into the bed immediately, there are a few tips to give your transplants a head start.  Water your garden bed.  It should not be soppy wet but just damp.

preparing garden beds - bare foot preparation

Prepare your transplants by bare rooting them.  Carefully wash away as much of the potting soil mix as possible and then soak the bare roots in a compost tea or a Garrett juice mixture.

Plant your transplants high.  If the transplants are grafted, make sure the graft is uncovered.  On woody plants, plant so that the root flare is uncovered.  Setting transplants to low can cause poor growth.

Remember to mulch your bed after planting.  We prefer fresh wood chip mulch from your locality.  Mulch close to the plant but keep the mulch back away from the stems.

Links and Resources

For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.

If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.

Compost Tea

Garrett Juice

Fertile Soil

If you have more specific questions or problems, you can contact us using the contact form on our website. You can also post your question to our community forum at this page; West Texas Organic Gardening Community Forum.

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