The Q&A Archives: Turning a Lawn into a Vegetable Garden

Question: What do you recommend to prepare the soil on a new veggie garden "carved" out of what was part of my lawn. Should I remove the sod, or rototill it up? The grass has been in place for 40 years and is healthy and solid. The soil is severe clay. What should I add to break up the clay, and to provide nutients? <br><br>Thanks, Jack

Answer: The easiest thing to do is take up the sod by cutting a section and rolling it up like carpet. Wait until the soil is fairly dry, since working wet clay will destroy the structure and make it set up like a brick! Roll the sod back over the exposed soil with the roots up - this will kill the grass roots in about 10 days, and make the sod easier to compost (or you may have a neighbor who'd be willing to help in trade for your healthy sod!). Shake out as much topsoil from the roots as you can before composting. Next, find a source of compost or aged manure to combine with your clay soil. The organic matter this provides improves the soil texture, drainage and nutrient holding capacity.<br><br>Keep adding organic matter to the soil throughout the season in the form of mulch (straw/grass clippings/newspaper/etc.) and occasional top-dressing with compost. Start a compost pile with your yard and kitchen waste, too. <br><br>Some gardeners find that addition of gypsum or greensand also helps improve the structure of clay soils. You should have your soil tested by the agricultural extension office in your county (ph# 205/325-5342), and see what they recommend. They can also tell you what, if any, nutrients are out of balance in the soil.

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