The following article is from one of our community gardeners, Ann Shepphird. It was originally posted on her website, GardensToTables.com, which she started when she got her community garden in 2008.
Good organic gardeners will tell you that they don’t grow plants, they grow soil — and by that they mean a soil rich in organic material. As we begin to pull out our summer crops and get ready for fall planting, it’s a good time to take a look at the soil in our garden and do what’s necessary to create the “healthy dirt” — or humus — that will give life to our new seedlings. For some, it might be time to put in a cover crop. For those ready to put in their next round of seeds or seedlings, here is a step-by-step “Guide to Hand Bed Preparation” created by the food folks at the Esalen Farm and Garden, who have some of the healthiest beds (and, hence, crops) you’ll ever see. I made a few edits for the home gardener but it’s a great guide to get you started. Happy fall planting!
- Clear all plant waste of previous crops and weeds from the bed using a short-handled fork, hard or soft rake, and a compost bin or trash can.
- Check that there are suitable stakes (i.e., able to have a string easily tied to) at each corner of the bed. Stakes should be between 42-48 inches apart. If a stake is missing, drive a new stake into the ground to create the appropriate width; move existing stakes to create the appropriate width.
- Connect parallel corner posts with string to mark the length of the bed along the pathways.
- Using a broad fork, stand in the pathway and fork one half of the bed, moving from the center of the bed toward the path. Work along the length of the bed and switch sides to finish forking the other half of the bed from the opposite pathway.
- Apply compost with a wheelbarrow and flat-head shovel so that there is a 1/4 inch layer along the length of the bed. Typically, this is one wheelbarrow full over 25-30 feet of bed length.
- Apply amendments as necessary (if possible, test your soil first). This is a very sensitive step so be sure you know what’s needed as it can have detrimental affects if done improperly.
- Use tilther to incorporate compost and amendments into forked soil.
- Use wheel-a-hoe to cut pathways between your beds and eliminate weeds. Rake persistent weed waste (such as purslane, bind weed, kikuyu grass) from path and compost.
- Use flat shovel to scoop loose path soil onto bed.
- Shape the bed with rakes so that the bed extends the full length and width of the established dimensions.
- Use the finishing rake to smooth the surface of the bed so that it is as level as possible and has a neat appearance that is free of large rocks, weeds and plant waste.
- Water the bed to ensure that it is ready for planting in the same week.