I have a confession to make. Although I love gardening and cherish the time I get to spend in my happy place, by the time late fall is approaching, I’m usually so over it. I used to worry that feeling this way meant that I was losing my love of gardening. Now, I know that’s not the case at all – instead, I’m just tired and in need of a break. And, every winter in March, I am dying to get back out there and the wonder of tiny seedlings sprouting under my grow lights in the basement is, once again, completely amazing.
Because I’m so over it in late fall, preparing vegetable garden beds for spring isn’t high on my priority list. I sometimes don’t clean up the garden as well as I should to close out the season. This past fall, I kept five of my eight raised beds going until Christmas. For the other three, I did remove dead crops and mulch them with shredded fall leaves and grass clippings. I’ll have my work cut out for me this spring since I still have the wasted remains of my cauliflower, kale, and sprouting broccoli plants in the rest of my beds.
I was so happy with the results of my vegetable garden this year – did you know I grew almost 250 pound of tomatoes?! – that I will follow the same steps for preparing it as I did last year except that this year.
First, no matter how much cabin fever you have, you need to wait until your soil can be worked. What does this mean? It means that the soil is dry and warm enough that you can pick up a handful of it, drop it back down, and it should break up or crumble. As tempting as it may be to start digging around and turning over soil that’s still cold and waterlogged from winter, you mustn’t. Doing so can damage the structure of your soil, eliminate valuable air pockets that plants need, and produce super-hard clods that are very difficult to break up later.
I do not till my soil. I am too lazy for this and it’s the biggest reason why I opted for the “lasagna method” when I first set up my garden. Now with the beds, I simply layer my amendments right on top of the soil several weeks before I begin planting. Here’s a step-by-step for preparing vegetable garden beds for planting:
- Begin by removing any dead crops and composting them. If you planted a cover crop, you will need to cut those down and work them into the soil several weeks before planting. I do not plant cover crops because so many of my beds still produce food well into the winter.
- Layer any amendments onto the garden soil. I use bagged composted cow manure, but if you have a large garden, you may need to purchase compost by the cubic yard. I add about 2-3 inches onto my soil. If you have access to fresh manure, that’s great news but make sure it’s composted well before you add it to your garden. Fresh manure releases lots of nitrogen into your soil and can burn young plants.
- Next, top off your beds with a thin layer of soil. I have a local supplier that will deliver a mix of screened topsoil and mushroom compost. Spread about 1-2 inches onto your beds and smooth the surface. Spring is a time for direct sowing tiny little seeds, and it’s best to have a uniformly smooth surface to work with.
- Finally, you may also want to spread some mulch to thwart early-emerging weeds. I wait until I’ve planted my seeds and transplanted any seedlings into the beds to mulch. A very thin layer of grass clippings from spring’s first mowing does a nice job of blocking weeds and it adds nitrogen to give young plants a boost.