The Q&A Archives: How to get the earth ready

Question: I haven't gardened in our back yard yet.What is the best way to get the earth ready to grow veggies and flowers?We are near Boston, MA.What to add to soil?Peat moss?any nutrients?I want all organic, no pesticides.Soil is currently not too hard, but the roots will need some ease and air. Will grow carrots, radish, pumpkin, muskmelon, tomato, varieties of sunflower and wild flower, pole beans....

Answer: For the most success, select a sunny location with well-drained soil. To prepare the soil, mix compost into the planting bed about three weeks prior to planting. Compost can come from animal manures or plant material and may be homemade or commercially prepared. I spread 4-5 inches of compost or aged manure over the top of the bed and then dig it in to a depth of 8-10 inches. This will loosen the soil and provide nutrients to the plant's roots.

Choose varieties of vegetables that are well adapted to your region and known to be disease and pest resistant. Check with your local cooperative extension service for recommendations, and use seed catalogs to identify varieties that are bred to be pest or disease free.

Start planting peas, spinach and broccoli once soils are thawed in the spring (or in the fall where winters are mild). These vegetables thrive in cool soils and air and can even survive light frosts. Tomatoes, peppers, corn and squash need heat and do not tolerate frost. Plant them only after soils are thoroughly warm and danger of frost has passed.

The general rule of thumb is tall crops go in the back (north), while short crops go in the front (south) of your garden. This may no plant shades another. I place rows of pole beanes, tomatoes, and okra in the back. The next row would be peppers, eggplant and bush squash. On the edges of the beds I'd plant meons and cucumber and let them vine outside the garden, thus saving space. In front I'd plant carrots and bush beans. They should all fit. Just follow the spacing recommendations on the packages and you'll end up having more food than you can eat!!!

Encourage beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewing flies and hover flies by not spraying broad-spectrum pesticides, by planting the plants that nourish them (such as dill and zinnia) and by releasing purchased insects into your yard. Likewise, provide habitats for toads, birds and bats to live.

Water and mulch as needed. Healthy, vigorous plants are somewhat less attractive to some pests, and if attacked are better able to outgrow any damage that they may have suffered.

Prevent pests by removing weeds, which often sustain them. Rotate crops every year to avoid pest buildup, and cover susceptible crops with lightweight fabric row covers to exclude pests. Research the crops you're planting so that you can identify their common pests, then strategize how to outmaneuver them. Searching a variety of garden Web sites under "integrated pest management" will provide lots of materials to look over.

Best wishes with your new garden!

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