2 beds in garden showing how to turn soil by hand

How to Prepare Your Soil for a Successful Organic Spring Garden

Prepare for an amazing, organic Spring garden now.

A healthy, productive garden begins with healthy soil. Healthy soil means healthy plants that are not as susceptible to disease and insects. Less disease and insects mean you get to enjoy your garden more and you will get more produce. It’s a cycle that works! Taking the time to prepare your soil is well worth the investment of time. You will also save money on fungicides and insecticides too. If you want a successful Spring garden, start preparing your soil a few weeks before time to plant. 

Know what you want to grow before you start preparing your soil

Different veggies require different nutrients for a good crop. In other words, each bed that you prepare will need different soil amendments. To help you decide which vegetables you will be growing, there are some questions to ask before you begin. These questions are very important so you won’t be trying to grow something that won’t grow where you live. Maybe your favorite veggie will grow best in a different season. Find the answers to these questions and more in my post: 6 Important Questions to Ask Before Planting.

An early start on your garden will bring great rewards later

It’s not too late to get a head start on a successful Spring garden. This step-by-step tutorial on how to prepare your soil will be a game-changer for experienced gardeners and a quick start out of the gate for beginners. If your planting date is still a few weeks from now, you can start some of your plants from seed now so they will be ready to put in the ground in a few weeks. You can still start your tomatoes, peppers, and herbs in a seed starter-type soil. For a step-by-step tutorial, see my posts, How to Start Your Tomatoes from Seeds and Grow Your Own Herbs

Garden Soil

There’s a lot of life going on in the soil during all of the seasons. So let’s talk about your dirt first. I just call the whole community of dirt, bacteria, and enzymes “soil”. Soil needs time to digest and break down the food you are giving it so that the nutrients can become available to the seeds you plan on planting in a few weeks. The “digestion” takes longer in the winter months-her system is “sluggish”, humanly speaking.

What is the best way to prepare garden soil?

There are different schools of thought when it comes to the best way to prepare the soil for a garden. Twenty-five years ago, my garden started out with a friendly farmer disking my soil. Then, I acquired a used tiller. I used that for a few years until it died. I graduated down to a mini-tiller. As the years went by, my soil seemed to be less fertile and some nearby oak trees were invading the garden. So, I researched and discovered a different way to work my soil. Once the roots from the oaks were cut, I started a big project of restoring health to my soil. It worked. My yield doubled or tripled once I began doing that. But, it’s not just digging. There are a few things to know first.

For just a little

A garden journal is exactly what you need to keep track of what worked and what didn’t. All this is done for you! For just a little, you can get a printable document that’s got you covered from your seed wish list to your harvest records. There are 39 pages of charts, record keeping, garden map grids, and lots of pages for your garden journaling about the garden in general as well as the individual veggies and fruit that you are growing. It’s only $4.99! You can find out more details and order it here and get started right away. (A digital version is also available in the shop.)

How to prepare organic garden beds

Soil Preparation Steps:

  1. Research first
  2. Harvest leaves
  3. Harvest manure
  4. Dig and turn your soil as you make your soil beds
  5. Cover with leaves
  6. Water occasionally
  7. Wait for the soil to warm up

Research first

Different veggies require different nutrients. Gather your materials first but be prepared to incorporate different percentages of the materials in different beds, depending on which vegetable you will be growing in that bed. It’s good to have a plan drawn out so you can refer to the map.

Harvest leaves?

Yeah, well, rake them! It just makes me feel better to say, “harvest”. In the past years, I let others harvest their leaves too, and then I brought them home by the bag fulls. I lined the back of my small SUV with a water-proof shower curtain, draping it over the back of the back seat. I know it may look weird, putting bags of leaves in my car, but I’ve gotten past looking weird! When I got home, I piled them in a huge pile near my garden to use as I needed them throughout the year.

This year, things changed. We got a lawn sweeper. That big brush sweeps up leaves and hurls them into a bag. All while we are pulling it with the lawn mower! It has saved us a lot of time, not to say our backs! Our neighbor is especially happy when we do her lawn too. She has eight oak trees! We have four. Between the two of us, most of the leaves will be incorporated into the garden and the paths by the time it’s ready to rake again the following year. That’s a lot of leaves!

Manure

Who wants to harvest manure? And just what do you put it in? If you are getting horse manure, the farm will have the best bags for it: feed bags. Call them ahead of time and ask them to save the bags for you and let them know when you will be there. Be sure to take a shovel with you.

First, a word of CAUTION

Manure should be at least one year old. Fresh manure can kill your seedlings. It needs to ripen, just like everything else in the garden. Another word of caution. I harvested old horse manure for years and then, suddenly, the manure infected my soil with herbicide. Yes, herbicide can pass through a horse, believe it or not. It’s in their feed and hay. The uneaten hay that gets mixed in with the stall shavings (which are mixed in the manure) can have residual herbicide too. So. I quit using horse manure for vegetables or fruit.

Herbicides in manure

I lost a whole bed of tomatoes that year. The herbicide stayed active for two years after that, at lesser effects on the garden. Only dicot plants were affected. Monocot did not care. That makes sense. Herbicide is most commonly used to get rid of weeds that are dicot. So, beans, tomatoes and peas were affected, tomatoes being the most affected. Corn was not affected. But, because I try to be as organic as possible, no more horse manure. If we have to be technical, since I use fertilizer from animals and shavings that are not organic, I can’t call my garden true organic. But, it’s a close as I can get to organic.

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How to dig and turn a garden bed

Before you dig, make a map of your garden.

Map out your garden first. Learn which veggies need more nitrogen and adjust the amount of manure that you add. Manure is high in nitrogen. If your veggies need more phosphorous or potassium, add more leaves. Scroll down to see more notes about the materials that different veggies need. This will give you a reference to go by as you prepare your beds, one at a time.

First, place the first 3X3 section of your bed’s top soil into buckets or a wheelbarrow.
Second, the first block is removed and pitchfork will loosen soil st the bottom.
Third, add leaves or dried grass and of manure or compost.
Last step, put the next row of soil on top, but turned over in order to smother weeds. The first shovel full has been placed on top of dried grass shown in the top corner of the space dug.

Instructions:

  1. Get two to four five-gallon buckets or a wheelbarrow.
  2. Start a section that will be for convenient future harvesting. I recommend that your new bed will be three or four feet across. You only need to dig down the top 6-8 inches. (Don’t believe that corn goes two feet down-a popular notion. They run their roots wide if that’s where the nutrients are.)
  3. Place a width of about three feet of that top-soil into the buckets.
  4. Once you have removed a section, use a pitchfork and loosen up the soil that is at the bottom of the trench you just dug.
  5. Spread a layer of leaves and a layer of manure over that.
  6. Now, start digging the section, right next to that space you just put manure in.
  7. Turn the shovel full OVER onto the manure and/or leaves, weeds and all. The weeds will die if you turn them under the soil.
  8. Continue to do this until your whole row is done.
  9. The buckets or wheelbarrow of dirt will then be the last dirt to go over the very last section you turned.

I do not turn the whole garden. I only turn the raised beds this creates because the pathways do not need to be prepared. Do NOT walk on your new beds. Your seedlings will thank you for that! Place a 8-12 inch deep layer of extra leaves in the walkways to keep weeds from growing.

Different garden beds need different percentages of materials

Beans DO NOT do well with manure.

Place only leaves in the trench. I also amend with sulfur for all beans. If you plant beans in high nitrogen (manure), they will make a beautiful bush and few beans. Your garden may not need the nitrogen-rich manure for beans. I don’t add manure to the row where beans will go.

Peas DO NOT do well with manure

I grow black-eye peas and zipper peas. Both are summer crops. They are bushes that require more phosperous and potassium. If they get too much nitrogen, they will grow a beautiful plant but not enough peas. If your pea plants are nitrogen rich, they will attract ants. Ants know the difference somehow. They bring their little friends, aphids and place them on the stems of the pea plants. The aphids exude a liquid that the ant “farm” off of the aphids. The plants become weak and die quickly. Smart ants. But I don’t want them in my garden. Besides, they are fire ants and they hurt like fire! So, don’t put very much manure where you plan to plant peas!

Corn LOVES manure.

Place extra manure in the beds when you are digging them. Then, work more into the topsoil. Watch the corn closely. At the first sight of yellow leaves around the edges, scrape in more composted manure or worm castings into the soil around the stalk. Save some manure for when the corn plants get about “knee-high”. They will need a boost of compost or manure again at that time.


After you prepare your soil for a vegetable garden

Your soil is ready for planting. I recommend that you wait at least two weeks before planting in your freshly turned soil. The time will give the organisms in the soil to make the extra nutrients available for your young plants. I have a complete tutorial for your next step, which is planting seeds. With years of experience and trial and error, I share everything I know about planting a Spring garden. Read it here, Learn How to Plant Seeds for a Spring Garden.

If you live where the winters are cold and plants are dormant, you will want to read my post about Fall planting. My Fall and Winter garden will be YOUR early Spring garden. The same principles and tips will apply. Read it here, The Top 7 Vegetables to Grow in the Fall.

Preparing your garden soil is worth the effort

Could you save yourself some time and trouble by tilling? Absolutely. You can still have a decent garden, but I choose to hand dig because the results are worth it. The yield in my garden has substantially increased. I have to admit though. My garden is about one third what it used to be. If I still had a family of nine and had a large garden, I would use a tiller. Or, I would see which boy can turn a bed the fastest!

It’s a lot of work, but you’ll be glad you did it when you see the results that you will get because you prepared your soil for your Spring garden.

Happy digging! It’s great exercise. Just don’t overdo it.

A photo of the author, Deborah Schreffler

Debbie Schreffler

Veteran Homeschooler, avid gardener, and proud grandma

I believe that you can design a peaceful lifestyle while you homeschool, complete with a garden if you want, and meals that will make the best memories you ever could imagine!

I homeschooled seven kids through high school, starting them all with a lot of planned, hands-on activities. Then, I centered subjects around the activities. That gave them lots of room for their natural curiosity to be satisfied as they learned about God’s world.

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