Guide written by:
Albert, Manager of a gardening service, Leicester
Soil provides the very foundation of your vegetable garden. It's made up of minerals, water, air and organic matter. In order to balance all these elements for planting, you will need to start by preparing the earth properly.
Preparing your soil boils down to three main steps: weeding, enriching the soil (meaning adding organic or mineral matter to the soil) and working or turning the soil. Each of these steps can be performed using different methods depending on whether you are looking to grow a traditional or organic vegetable garden.
If you're in the process of creating a vegetable garden, no doubt your soil is full of weeds. If you already have a vegetable patch, you'll usually find it swamped with unwanted plants at the start of the growing season. Either way, you'll need to get rid of the weeds to make sure the area is clear for your future crops. There are two main techniques to eliminate weeds and both can be applied as soon as the winter comes to an end. The first consists in creating mounds of earth over the weeds using a garden fork. These mounds should be turned over regularly but never broken up. The root system will remain in the ground while the weed stems and leaves are buried. As the plants are deprived of light, they will soon wither away. The second method consists in covering up the weeds with a tarpaulin or, better still, a woven mulch mat which will filter out the light but allow water to pass through. After several weeks, the weeds will wilt away through lack of light. These techniques are common in traditional growing but are also suitable if you hope to grow an organic vegetable garden.
A more common techniques involves pulling the weeds out using a garden claw or a weeding hoe and weed extractor for plants with longer roots. If you are weeding by hand but finding that part of the plant still remains in the ground, you simply need to grip the plant where the stems meet, twist it at a quarter turn and pull it towards yourself. To finish off the job, you can cover the weeds using grass clippings from your lawnmower or mulched plants from your garden shredder. Please note that, in order to be effective, your mulch should be at least five centimetres deep and cover the weeds entirely.
The soil in your vegetable garden must be rich in organic material and minerals. It's important that it is able to retain enough water but also has good drainage. A clay-heavy soil retains a lot of water but can harm plants if allowed to become excessively moist. On the other hand, a sand-based soil will often offer too much drainage and your crops may suffer from lack of water. You therefore need to find the right balance. A clay soil should be mixed with river sand. Compost, horse manure or fertiliser should be added to a sandy soil. That said, it's worth noting that some crops, such as carrots, spinach, broccoli or green beans cope well with sand soil, as long as you water them regularly and add some organic matter to the earth.
No matter what type of soil you have, it's essential to provide some organic material. To do so, you'll need to add around 5 to 20 litres of compost for every square metre of your vegetable garden. The amount you apply depends on whether your soil is poor or rich in organic matter. A universal fertiliser can be used in unlimited quantities. Alternatively, you can use a special vegetable garden fertiliser making sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions. Incorporating organic fertiliser in powder or granulated form (such as horn and hoof or dried blood fertiliser) is also possible. These products are good in that they stay in the soil for a long time and are rich in nitrogen. You can also easily add compost you've made yourself using a composter or compost bin. This option is great if you are growing an organic garden.
Before you set about planting any vegetables, you'll need to work the soil. This step is crucial as it allows you to inject some air into the earth and lighten up the soil to allow the roots to spread easily. There are a few different ways to work the soil:
Tillers and cultivators are much faster to use than hand tools. Tillers are used to get deep into the soil while cultivators are designed to work the surface of the soil (but can be just as effective). For the best results, you will need to go over the soil at least twice working lengthways then across the soil.
Garden forks can also be used to get deep into the earth but do take more time to use. That said, using a hand tool will help to protect the microfauna in the soil, especially earth worms and any other auxiliary insects which help to aerate the soil and supply organic matter. To achieve the best results, you should break down any earth mounds by turning them over and hitting them with the edge of a garden tool or the back of a rake. Hand cultivators are used to work deep into the soil without harming its natural composition which will help to leave the soil microfauna intact. These tools are popular in organic growing. Easy to use, the major benefit of these tools is that they won't do your back in! The technique is simple: you just need to press your feet down on the top of the tool to drive the teeth into the earth before lifting the earth and repeating the same process a few centimetres away.
Guide written by:
Albert, Manager of a gardening service, Leicester, 64 guides
For several years I have been running a garden service with a clientele of both individuals and companies. I manage a team of gardeners and ensure the creation and maintenance of green spaces. At the same time, I bring my expertise to my clients in terms of the maintenance and improvement of their gardens. In fact, as a trainee and working in the hospitality industry at the beginning of my career, I focused on landscaping in a local community where I acquired solid technical skills through in-house training and the follow-up of major projects in a rapidly changing town. On a personal level, I am equally oriented towards the art of gardening. With my wife, I created our garden from start to finish and I maintain it carefully, the same goes for the vegetable garden. As for DIYing, it’s not to be outdone. Yes, gardening is also tinkering: pergolas, huts, pavements, fences, and so on...There is always something to do in a garden. After working well together, my wife and I are proud of the result and delighted to be able to take full advantage of a friendly and warm environment. So, let us give you advice and help you in your choice of tools, maintenance, or the improvement of your garden, nothing could be simpler.