The Q&A Archives: New To Vegetable Gardening

Question: I live in southwestern Washington and am new to gardening. I would like to grow some vegetables such as tomatoes and summer squashes, I have a flower bed that I pulled the peonie bulbs out of last fall, but it still currently has some kind of black paper buffer and bark chips on top of the soil. What do I need to do to prepare the soil for vegetables and will I still have time to do it this spring?

Answer: You can begin by removing the bark and weed barrier, then spreading 3"-4" of organic matter over the top of the soil. Use aged-compost, aged-manure, or leaf mold. Dig this in to a depth of 8"-10". Since the soil has been covered, it's probably dry enough to work now. (If it's a soggy mess, allow it to dry so that when you grab a handful it stays together when you squeeze it, but still falls apart when you touch it.)

After preparing the soil, sow the seeds or set out transplants, then mulch over the bare soil with several inches of organic matter to help suppress weeds and slow evaporation.

You can plant cool-season crops as soon as you've prepared the soil. Warm-season crops such as corn, tomatoes, squash and peppers shouldn't be planted until both the air and soil temperatures warm up a bit (about the first week of May in your area).

Hope your new garden is very productive. If you prepare the soil properly, and give your plants plenty of sunshine and water, a great harvest won't be just beginners luck!

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