A bit of garden wit, ascribed to Dave Barry, “your first job is to prepare the soil. The best tool for this is your neighbor’s motorized garden tiller. If your neighbor does not own a garden tiller, suggest that he buy one.”
Turn soils to about six-to-eight-inch depth. Ideal soils will be crumbly and not stick together when wet. The goal is a loose and aerated soil. Avoid tilling when soil is wet. This tends to compact the soil, again, making it harder for roots to penetrate. It takes work to loosen compacted soil and break up clumps/clods of soil. However, controlling air and water at the root zone will lend toward happier, healthier plants (more on that later).
After this season’s garden, consider planting an annual cover crop (green manures) such as cow pea, sunn hemp, sorghum, millet, and clovers. Cover crops suppress weeds by competing for water, sunlight, and nutrition. Green manures prevent erosion by holding soils in windy conditions. Some may help control nematodes. Cover crops are grown between garden seasons. Chop and till cover crops at least four to six weeks prior to planting for maximum benefit. Adding organic matter improves the water holding capacity of sandy soils. One could achieve similar results by working in compost (Brown, 2020). In clayey or heavier soils, adding organic matter increases pore space, which improves drainage. Decomposed organic matter improves the ability of soils to hold nutrients (Crow and Dunn, 2020).
Similarly, 25-100 pounds per 100 square feet of manure (not pet waste) may be tilled in at least 90-120 days prior to harvesting the garden (Brown et al, 2021 and De et al, 2019). Allow at least four weeks, six is better to allow time for decomposition. If you don’t have six weeks, hold off until next planting season to add manures and non-composted organic matter. For now, let’s plan the garden and prepare for irrigation. Until next time – Happy Gardening!
Resources to ponder while we’re waiting for microorganisms to breakdown the manure, compost, and cover crops;
Sydney Park Brown, 2020, Compost Tips for the Home Gardener
Sydney Park Brown, Danielle Treadwell, J. M. Stephens, and Susan Webb, 2021, Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide
W. T. Crow and R. A. Dunn, 2020 Soil Organic Matter, Green Manures, and Cover Crops for Nematode Management, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/VH037
Jaysankar De, Christopher R. Pabst, Jessica Lepper, Renée M. Goodrich-Schneider, and Keith R. Schneider, 2019, Food Safety on the Farm: Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices – Manure and Municipal Biosolids, pathogen reduction, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FS150