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Lawn and Garden

Garden Bed Preparation

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04/01/2010 - Last month I was saying that March is a great time for planning out the crops that you intend to plant this season, because as we have seen this year March can be a pretty wintry month here in Casper. Now that we are well into April the weather is finally breaking enough for us to spend some time in the garden. It is still too early to plant most things, but there are lots of things that you can do out in the garden to continue down the road to make this the best gardening season you've ever had.

This month I would like to focus on bed preparation. In past articles I have mentioned time and time again how important it is to add organic matter to your beds each year to help them reach their full potential. In Wyoming in general the soils are lacking in the organic matter plants need to thrive. So it is up to you to add them into the soil. Organic matter can mean many things. From woodchips, dead leaves, and bark, to peat moss, manure, and compost, all are organic matter. But not all organic matter will have the same effect on your garden performance this season.

For example if you add fresh wood chips to your garden it will raise the organic content of the soil over time, but it will take years for it to degrade and add nutrients to the soil. But wood chips do help reduce soil compaction, and add a little water holding capacity to the soil. Dead leaves, degraded bark, and peat moss all degrade fairly quickly when they are tilled into the soil, so they will have a effect on this years nutrient availability and water availability.

Both manure, and compost release their nutrients quickly when they are added to the soil because they have both been previously processed. If you choose to use manure to boost your soil be sure to consider the source before you decide how much to put on. If it is chicken manure or other highly processed manure it will be much more potent than manures like horse or steer. Whatever you decide to use to add organic matter to your garden or beds it is better than doing nothing at all.

At my own house when I prep my garden area, I am planning on using a peat moss and wood chip combination. Before I begin to till the area I will spread a layer of peat moss over the top of the entire surface about 3" thick. Once this is done I will set the tiller to dig as deep as it will go. After tilling the first time, I will lay out about a to 1" deep layer of untreated coarse wood chips, and then till it again. The reason that I have chosen this mix for my garden is because I live in an area where the soil is moderately dense and slightly sandy, but with lower clay content. The peat will add water and nutrient capacity to the soil, while the wood will add to the soil over time, and also reduce its ability to be compacted. I will finish the job by spreading a well-balanced granular fertilizer over the area. This fertilizer will dissolve into the soil with any precipitation that comes between now and the time that I plant, and it will be ready when the plants need it.

If you use manure in your garden it is very difficult to judge how much nutrient content it has and so you must be very careful not to over fertilize the area. So if you intend to add fertilizer to your bed it would be wise to use it at a half rate the first time. Doing some bed prep now will save you a lot of work during the season, and it will result in a better harvest for you.

Next month I will explain in greater detail some of the things to consider when choosing a fertilizer; there are so many types to choose from that it can get a little confusing. I hope you all have a great month.

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