LATE WINTER PREPARATIONS FOR THE GARDEN
In many parts of the country, it’s now time to begin thinking about this year’s gardens.
The first task is to “open up the ground” with the use of a plow, disc harrow, or rototiller. Opening up or aerating the soil offers many benefits.
Farmers will usually take the first opportunity, when the weather allows, to plow their fields in late winter to prepare for planting of this year’s crops. This begins the process of breaking up the soils, and exposing unwanted species, weeds that have root systems from the previous years to be “turned over,” allowing them to freeze at night when the temperatures dip below 32 degrees. In most cases, this practice helps to kill and eliminate much of the unwanted weeds.
This same practice works the same with any size garden, including raised beds. Of course, the raised bed approach may require more “by hand” labor, although, depending on the size of the raised bed, a “small” rototiller may be an options.
The timing is important with respect to the moisture content of the grounds. Obviously, the snow must have melted, and from that point, it’s simply checking to see that the soils are not too wet to be worked. One of the best “old school” methods is to grab a small handful of the soil to be used, squeeze it tightly into a ball about golf ball size, and gently drop it on the ground. It it breaks up into pieces, the ground is ready to work. If it doesn’t, you should wait for the ground to dry out a little more.
By the way, this is the same moisture content practice that should always be used when maintaining an already established garden.
After the “turned” soils have been allowed enough time for a few overnight freezes and the soils are dry enough to work, it’s now time to continue to break up the soils into a state of ideal planting conditions.
Quite often and highly recommended is the practice of broadcasting a compost material onto the garden between Steps 1 and 2 to enrich the soils and enjoy a larger bounty at harvest time.
For larger gardens that were plowed, I now recommend that a disc harrow be used to continue to break up the soils and help to mix in the applied compost. The smaller gardens will require the use of a rototiller to accomplish the same goal.
I suggest allowing the soils to remain untouched at this point until planting time. Just before planting, it’s recommended to once again go over the entire garden several times with the disc harrow or rototiller. This should normally leave the gardener with an ideal seed bed that has been well fed (compost) and ready to plant.