Preparing Garden Beds for Spring Planting

The soil in our gardens in a precious and fragile commodity. It is an ecosystem all on its own and if we want to be able to grow things successfully we will need its help. It is essential that we all take care of the topsoil in our gardens. To do this we must be sure to feed surplus back into the system. Our plants are all hungry and they will not be fed unless we take measures that avoid depleting stores of resources in the soil. The soil in garden beds should be fed every year if they are to continue to be productive.

The good news is that once a garden is established, it is more than capable of sustaining itself cyclically. In the natural world forest ecosystems form which are easily able to self-sustain. Trees grow, shed leaves, twigs and bark, which rot down and decompose with the help of micro-organisms in the soil beneath. By this and other mechanisms, the nutrients help the trees and other plants to grow. The whole system works as one. In most gardens, we are tampering with nature in order to create a yield or to create something we consider beautiful. As we do not generally leave all leaves and other debris where it falls, we have to consider how we ourselves are going to complete the cycle and return nutrients to our garden soil.

A good composting system, once established will provide you will the material you need to retain fertile richness in your garden's soil or to improve the quality of the top soil, where that is poor. Animal manure is also a good source of enriching material for your garden soil, if you can get it easily and can be sure that it is free of antibiotics and other potential contaminants. Green manures (crops grown over autumn/winter and dug in in the spring) are also a great option to ensure the continued good health of the topsoil.

March is a good time to gently fork in your green manure and/or to add a top dressing of home-made compost. It is also a good time to source your manure or compost from outside your property if these are required, and to add these to your garden beds. If you do not already have a compost heap or compost bin, as the weather improves in March, make sure that you add one to your garden plans, so you can have a good quality compost by this time next year.

While many gardeners thoroughly dig over or till their soil, a no-dig approach advocates disturbing soil as little as possible to allow its ecosystem to remain undisturbed. To this end, preparing a no dig bed simply involves adding compost, manure or green mixes on top of the existing soil surface and planting into that. Nutrients and minerals will naturally make their way down into the topsoil and feed your plants. Adding to and feeding your garden beds in this way every year will allow you to create a high-quality topsoil and therefore a garden of which you can be really proud. 

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