How do you prepare your beds for planting?

dlupMarch 8, 2010

Hello all,

I have been lurking for a couple years and have finally decided to post a couple questions to find out what others are doing at the start of the season. Now that most of the three feet of snow in our backyard has melted, I am ready to start thinking about this year's garden. OK, that is not true...I started back in January and planned out all of my planting when we only had two feet of snow!

We have two seasons of SFG under our belts now and have had good success. We have three 4x3 and one 4x2 boxes, all made out of 2x12s over decent soil that we forked and turned before filling the boxes. We started with Mel's Mix (various composts, vermiculite, coir, pear moss) the first year. The beds settled a good bit during the first year, so last summer we topped off with more Mel's Mix made with our own and other compost and more of the other ingredients with some blood meal and bone meal mixed in to within an inch or two of the tops of the boxes and sowed our seeds without any turning of the soil.

I have two questions for the community out there in the internet...

First, do you top off at the start of the season with just compost, as I think the "official" method suggests, or do you mix up and add additional Mel's mix? I can see reasons for doing either, so I am curious to know what you use (including any additional amendments) and why.

Second, do you turn, fork, till, or otherwise mix your Mix at the start of the season before planting? We did not last year and given the abundance of worms, I am not inclined to do so. Plus things went well without doing so last year and it is much easier. Again, I am curious to know what you do and why?

Thanks all!


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First David let me say that I wing it and am not sure I know what I'm doing or following any rules.

I usually get some bags of compost. I don't make anymore mix. I put it on top and then just take my shovel and turn over the soil a bit to mix it in.

I hope those with more experience can help you out

    Bookmark   March 9, 2010 at 11:52AM
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David; Welcome, we need more MN square footers on here. I am new to square foot my self (one year), but a life long gardener. I am not adding Mel's mix ($) I added my compost in the fall and covered with leaves. I will just add my own compost as required with minimum till. Thanks.

Curt :-)

    Bookmark   March 9, 2010 at 12:56PM
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Hello David. I usually add compost I have created during the course of the year and a little more peat if the soil looks too settled. I also tend to turn the soil over quite a bit before planting again. Enjoy

    Bookmark   March 9, 2010 at 1:49PM
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gardener_mary(6 MA)

In my opinion, if you have light soil with lots of orgainic matter there is no reason to really churn it up (the worms have already done all the work for you). I just use a hand trowel to fluff each square before I plant. I add home made compost when ever possible (never seems to be enough) and I also use a small amount of organic high nitrogen fertilizer (made from recipe in original SFG book) for lettuces and other greens.

Good gardening, Mary

    Bookmark   March 13, 2010 at 4:41PM
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Mel's book says only compost need be added in succeeding years. The vermiculite and peat stay in the soil. Even though the first year you have to shell out some bucks, after that, cost is minimal, especially if you compost.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2010 at 4:54PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

I just add a layer of compost and when I transplant add a little more vermiculite to the planting hole as I did not mix in very much when the boxes were built.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2010 at 9:29PM
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choxie(7 (NC))

Thanks for this information. I am ready to get my beds together for the year.

My dh put grass clippings and leaves on my garden last year without asking me. I was furious.

But I will add more compost and churn it under this year and go with that.

I still have much peat left so I can make more mel's mix, but I will probably just use that in some containers.

BTW, all year long, my little girls have been digging up worms and adding them to my SFG. I believe that it should be chock full of worms (and worm castings) by now.

Let's hope.

Happy growing!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 3:36PM
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Hi choxie,

I have read in other posts on this forum that some folks put down a few inches of compost and then shredded leaves in the fall and let that overwinter and then plant in that the following spring, so I don't think you will be in trouble with that. I worry way up here in the frozen north that in the spring I will just have a layer of shredded leaves on top that will rob nitrogen as they decompose, but I am not sure that is a worry.

I spose I should have added to my original post that last fall we added a few inches of our own compost to our beds. I will do that again after this summer and may try a layer of shredded leaves. Anybody have any thoughts on that?

This summer I also plan to mulch with straw after everything is up and growing and then leave that mulch in place for the next year to become part of the soil. I might even but the straw in a garbage can and weed whack it a bit to reduce its size before using as the mulch. Anybody have any thoughts on that plan also?


    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 11:39PM
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I just bought a book on lasagna gardening. The author just piles layers of compostable materials in a bed and lets it decompose. She even plants some things the first year, just kind of makes a hole by gently moving the layers out of the way. Then she mulches. I just added a 4' x 8' bed that is 12" deep on one end to compensate for the slope in the yard. Since I didn't want to spend alot of money to fill the bottom, I layered peat moss, some leaves, more peat moss, manure,sand, amended topsoil in the bottom. Then I made enough Mel's mix to fill the top 6". Well, actually I layered those ingredients as well and just churned it up with a rake. Last year doing it on the tarp with just small amounts just about killed me. Also, I went to Lowe's and got torn bags of peat, potting soil, garden soil, manure, etc. for half price. The bags were full, only had rips in them. They even had bags out in the garden center for containing the ripped bags.


    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 8:03AM
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I Love gardening this way.Its actually fun.I add peat in springh,In fall I gather leaves I run over them with mower a few times grind em good.Then spread in boxes,works great,I dont need a shovel really the soil is good you can dig with your hand is so good.I do this in flower beds too,

    Bookmark   March 28, 2010 at 10:43AM
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