As mentioned in an earlier post, a raised garden bed is a bed that is made by (a) piling up dirt into a plateau shape, or (b) by constructing a frame and filling it with soil and other materials.
Raised beds have several benefits: they require less bending over when tending to plants, which is easier on your back; they don’t require as much digging; they prevent soil compaction; and they allow you to customize the materials that go into filling them, which means that you have more control over the composition of your soil.
In our last post we learned that having healthy topsoil in your garden is extremely important when it comes to your garden’s success. Unfortunately, the reality is that most people do not have great quality soil in their backyards. If this is the case for you, don’t stress about it. Thankfully, there is a lot that you can do to improve and maintain the quality of your soil. If your soil thrives, your garden will too!
Soil Pt. 1: Ideal Soil Conditions
Today we’re going to talk about soil.
Now, I know, this topic does not sound that exciting. The soil under our feet seems like the plainest thing in the world. But what many people don’t know is that there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, and the fact is that the health of your soil is extremely important when it comes to the productivity of your garden plants and the nutrition content of the stuff you grow. So let’s dig in and find out what kind of soil conditions work best for gardening!
Composting at Home
Another great thing to do while you’re waiting for your seedlings to mature is to start a compost pile. Compost is decomposed organic matter ("organic" as in “not man made”). It’s what you get when things such as vegetable scraps and fallen leaves rot and are broken down by decomposers like worms, fungi, and bacteria.
Decomposition is nature’s way of taking nutrients that are inside of dead things and making them bioavailable (able to be absorbed by other organisms) again. Compost is one of the best things you can use to fertilize your plants because it is extremely nutrient rich. Mixing it into your garden will improve the quality of your soil and may help to increase your crop yields. You can buy compost at any garden store... or you can save money and make your own - completely for free!
Keeping a Garden Journal
There are several things that you can do to prepare for the growing season while you wait for your seedlings to mature. For instance, now is the perfect time to start keeping a garden journal!
A garden journal is simply a written record of your garden. It’s a bit like keeping a lab notebook in high school science class. Writing things down helps you to keep track of each year’s gardening information for future reference. Your journal will also help you to identify what worked and what didn’t work so well so that you can adjust your approach and get better results next time.
Caring for Seedlings
A few days after you start your seeds indoors, you might have a few seeds beginning to sprout. As exciting as it is to watch your seedlings come up, it’s also a very precarious time in your plants’ development. You’ll need to care for your seedlings diligently in the coming weeks so that they grow into strong and healthy plants.
Starting Seeds Indoors
If you live in a cooler climate, you will likely need to start some of your seeds indoors. This is when you sprout the seeds inside your house and let them grow for several weeks. Then you transplant the seedlings outside once the last frost date of the spring has passed.
Since your plants are already partially grown when you put them in the ground, they have a greater chance of survival – which means less plants die, and you get more food!
Before planting your seeds, it is helpful to soak them. Soaking your seeds overnight right before planting helps them germinate (sprout) faster.
You can soak almost all seeds. You don’t really need to soak the teeny tiny ones.
The best way to soak seeds is to use a damp paper towel on a plate. Fold the paper towel in half so the seeds are sandwiched between two moist sheets. They should be damp, not soaking wet.
Sourcing Plants and Seeds
Now that you’ve decided what to grow, it’s time to obtain your plants.
The easiest thing to do is to buy plants or seedlings from a garden center. This option can be quite expensive, though.
One cheaper option is to regrow certain plants from scraps of vegetables or herbs. Potatoes, onions, and garlic are all grown this way.
Choosing What to Grow
Once you have an idea of how much room you have to grow and when to plant your garden, it’s time to choose what you want to grow!
What you can grow depends on what time of year you are starting your garden. If you are growing plants indoors in containers, you can grow any time of year as long as your plants continuously have enough sunlight. If you are growing plants in outdoor containers or in the ground, you will need to look up which crops you can plant at this time of year.
Generally, if the plant has enough time to mature before the fall frost date, you can grow it.