Planning a Vegetable Garden (cont)
By: Lynn Ocone
Create a Garden From Your Plan
Once you have a plan, you're ready to stake the garden. You'll need a tape measure, plenty of string, 12- to 18-inch stakes and a hammer to drive the stakes into the ground.
For best sun exposure, orient the garden so the rows run east to west, with the tallest plants on the north end. Following your plan, drive a stake in each of the four corners of the garden.
At this point you'll need to rototill or turn the garden by hand and remove existing weeds.
If you haven't had your soil tested to determine the soil pH, do it now. Most vegetables require a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. Limestone is often necessary to raise the pH in high-rainfall areas; use sulfur to lower the pH in the arid West. Your extension service will advise you on how to test the soil and make recommendations on how to improve it.
Raise the Beds
Next, measure and stake each garden bed, and outline the beds with string. To raise a bed, first loosen the soil in the bed using a shovel or a garden fork, then shovel soil from an adjacent path onto the bed. You can also stand in a pathway and use a rake to bring up soil from the next pathway.
Smooth the soil on the surface of the bed by raking. I use both the tines and the back edge of the rake. I spend a lot of time shaping the beds -- it's important to get the beds right from the start. Draw the soil evenly between the string boundaries, letting excess soil fall off the edge of the bed outside the string. The object is to end up with a flat-topped raised bed that extends fully to the string boundaries. Each bed should rise about eight inches above the pathway. Rake the paths to level them; you want them flat, not U-shaped.
Feed the Soil
I garden organically and try to address the soil's long-term needs by supplying plant nutrients with natural fertilizers and compost. Building soil takes time, and nutrients from most organic products are released into the soil slowly. As I build each bed, I broadcast several inches of compost or natural fertilizers like decomposed chicken manure over the surface and work it into the soil with my rake.
For a 12- by 16-foot garden (almost 200 square feet), use 30 pounds of aged chicken manure, 75 pounds of horse manure or 75 pounds of commercial compost; use twice as much for a 20- by 20-foot plot.
If your garden is being created in previously uncultivated soil, I also recommend you apply five pounds of an organic fertilizer with approximately 5% nitrogen per 200 square feet. (The percentage of nitrogen is the first number of the three listed on the label.) Fill a bucket with the total amount you'll need for all your beds, then broadcast it evenly over the beds (not in the paths). Rake the fertilizer into the top few inches of soil.