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Home > Types of Gardening > Vegetable Gardening > Soil Preparation
Soil Preparation in Vegetable Gardening
Soils:Soil for Vegetable  Gardening The best soils for vegetable gardens are loams, that is, combinations of sand, clay and humus. These hold moisture and fertility better than sands, and are more easily worked than clays. They can be built up by adding humus-forming materials such as manures, compost, leaf mold or green manures; or in case of stiff clay, as follows: In late autumn spread fresh manure (a two-horse load to 2,500 sq. ft.) and plow or dig it under, leaving the ground rough; during winter, add an inch of sifted coal ashes, preferably on the snow; in spring, smooth down the clods, add hydrated lime or wood ashes (about a pound to the square yard) and rake in before fitting the soil for planting. Repeat the program annually until the soil is rich and friable.

The best source of the valuable humus is stable manure because it is full of bacteria that help release plant food and because, in decaying, it also supplies plant food elements discarded by animals. If a local supply is not available it can be bought in dried, pulverized, easy-to-use form that is also free of weed seeds. When you want to improve a heavy clay, turn under fresh manure in autumn so it can decay over winter; when a light soil is to be enriched, apply well decayed manure in spring as the plant food in it will quickly become available.

Green manures are crops (grains, roots, etc.) grown solely to be turned under while green and soft to improve the soil. If sown after midsummer, they are generally called "cover crops" because they protect the ground against winter washing and excessive leaching of plant food. Crops used for these purposes are of two classes: those that gather nitrogen from the air and add it to the soil, and those that cannot do this but merely protect the surface and conserve what food is already present. Crimson clover (sow an ounce to 200 sq. ft.), winter vetch (an ounce to about 60 sq. ft.) and Canada field peas (an ounce to about 40 sq. ft.) are the most suitable nitrogen-gathering crops for home gardens. Sow them on any vacant land from July until mid autumn. Crops of the other type include: Buckwheat, (1 ounce to about 60 sq. ft.), rye, barley and oats (an ounce to about 30 sq. ft.), and turnips or rape (1 ounce to 1,200 sq. ft.).

A good combination is buckwheat, crimson clover, rye and winter vetch sown all at once in mid July, either on empty ground or between rows of late vegetables. The first frost will kill the buckwheat, and perhaps the crimson clover won`t live over winter, but the rye and vetch will; and they will continue growing in spring until dug or plowed under.

Artificial manure, to take the place of or supplement the real thing can be made as follows, according to Missouri Experiment Station Bulletin No. 285 (now out of print): Heap straw, cut weeds, lawn clippings, and other waste vegetable matter in loose, flat-topped piles, five or six feet high on ground fully exposed to the weather. On top of each 4 to 6 inch layer, sprinkle evenly a mixture of 45 per cent ammonium sulphate, 40 per cent finely ground limestone (not burnt lime!) and 15 per cent super phosphate at the rate of seven or eight pounds to approximately 100 pounds of the vegetable material. Wet the pile as it is built and often enough thereafter to keep it moist, and the material will usually decay in three or four months, especially if it is forked over once or twice so as to throw the outside layer into the interior. The resulting compost is well worth making to improve the soil, to get rid of waste vegetable matter, and to avoid paying for as much high priced fertilizer as would otherwise be needed.

Commercial Fertilizers: As already noted commercial fertilizers are organic and inorganic. Various materials of each type are often bought separately and mixed for use in farming and commercial vegetable growing, but it is generally advisable and more convenient in small gardens to use prepared plant foods, that is complete, balanced mixtures carrying analysis figures showing the percentage content of nitrogen, phosphates, and potash. Fertilizer recommendations are usually made on an acre basis. To find the corresponding amount to apply to a small garden, divide the number of square feet in an acre (43,560) by the recommended amount to apply (say 1,000 pounds). The answer (43 and a fraction in this case) is the number of square feet on which one pound of the mixture should be spread.

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