Thursday, May 24, 2012
This depends on where you are starting your bed. If you are carving out an area from turf, I think the best is what is called “sheet mulching” and preparing your bed the year before you want to plant in it.
The first thing you want to do for any bed is to have a soil test done to see what amendments your soil needs. You can get a do it yourself kit or take some soil into your local extension office.
With this technique, you create a lasagna that snuffs out the grass and builds amazing soil. You start with a thin layer of soil amendments (lime, greensand, rock dust, etc.), then a thin layer of manure (or other nitrogen rich source), then a layer of cardboard or newspaper 1/4 to 1/2” thick and well overlapped, then another layer of manure, 8-12” of hay/straw/yard waste, 1-2” of compost, all topped by 2” of straw/wood chips/sawdust/leaves/other seedless mulch. Wet each layer as it goes down. The lasagna needs moisture to get cooking.
If you use regular mulch as the top layer, it will look like a typical flower bed.
You can use a broadfork before you start for holes deep in the soil so nutrients and microbes can penetrate further into the earth.
By spring, you will have a garden spot teaming with worms, microbes, greatly improved soil structure, rich black soil, and ready to plant.
A second technique is to till in compost and fertilizer. The cons to this are that a “hard pan” is created where the tiller tines scrap on bottom, it destroys soil structure and microbial colonies, and it oxidizes the soil, causing a quick burn off of the nitrogen and carbon in the soil. You’ll have a great garden for a year or two, but you are using up the nutrients at warp speed. Last, it is a lot of work and tillers aren’t cheap.