Getting the Growing Space Ready

We have been getting our field ready for the growing season. We have added amendments and fertilizer to the half an acre we plan on growing on this year. The other 3+ acres will be in a cover crop of cow peas, millet, and a bit of sunflowers. Cover crops are great, they prevent erosion, allow the soil to conserve moisture, and draw up minerals/nutrients from way down below. As the land rests enhancing the soil health, the cover crop is also providing habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects. Come the late fall we will plant a winter cover crop to carry us into the next season.

Broadcasting the cover crop seed

This year we will be growing tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, and sweet potatoes on the half an acre. This field has recently been rototilled, next we will be laying paper mulch and then we will start transplanting our tomatoes.

Heirloom tomato seedlings

We often get asked what is the best way to prepare a home garden bed from scratch. We believe in making things as simple as possible, here are the basic steps to follow:

  1. Mow your grass as short as you can where you would like your garden bed to be.
  2. Next if the area is dry spray with water until it is damp. Then lay down cardboard over the whole area, making sure all grass is covered. Spray with water again so the cardboard is damp.
  3. Then cover the cardboard with a mixture of approximately 50% compost and 50% top soil. You will want at least 8 inches of this mixture covering the cardboard. Depending on the size of your garden it could take many bags. Here is a handy calculator from Coast of Maine (we top each of our seedlings with their lobster compost) to help you determine how much cubic feet of material or bags you will need.
  4. Now transplant your favorite seedlings. Giving everything a good drink.
  5. After transplanting take newspaper or crab paper and cover all the bare soil around your seedlings, overlapping to make sure all the soil it covered (this is the key to preventing weeds). Spray with water to keep it from blowing away.
  6. Next spread your favorite mulch on top of the paper. You can used straw, dried leaves, pine needles, or wood chips. Just make sure your mulch is thick enough that you can’t see the paper through it.

If you have already have existing garden beds or are using containers/pots just: 

  1. Remove weeds and dead beds from your garden bed.
  2. Add 1 to 3 inches of compost to the top.
  3. When transplanting your seedlings add a little bit of a natural granulated slow release fertilizer to each hole.
  4. Mulch as recommended above.

As the plants grow in our simple layered garden bed the roots will make their way down into the native soil. While the earthworms will be moving up, digesting the cardboard and making their way into your garden bed. The next year you will just add about 3 inches of compost on top of last year’s mulch and transplant into the layered bed adding a little granulated fertilizer into each hole you dig for your seedlings. Then repeat the step for mulching your bed to prevent weeds.

How do you like to prepare your garden or field for vegetables?

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