The Q&A Archives: New Garden Preparation

Question: I have recently moved to Mendocino County from the San Francisco pennisula and now have room for a garden. The area is fenced and has a water line. The area is about 24 x 36 and is completly covered in weeds. I rototilled it in the spring, and pulled up enough cobblestone sized rocks to line a path. My question is how do I prep it so that I can grow vegetables for next year? How far down to I need to remove the rocks? What is the best way to kill the weeds - black plastic? I would like to avoid chemicals as I share my backyard with 2 chicken, 2 dogs, 2 cats and a 3 year old. Thank you for your advice.

Answer: Sounds like you're already getting your new garden off to a good start! Expect rocks to surface for several years - they seem to multiply underground and show up periodically, even in the most well-prepared garden beds. The secret to a high-yielding garden is great soil. You can build yours up over the years by adding lots of organic matter in the form of compost aged manure and green manure. Start this fall by loosening the soil and sowing a green manure cover crop. Try Austrian peas, Crimson, Hairy vetch or Winter rye. In the spring turn the cover crop into the soil - before it flowers and sets seed. The green tops will enrich the soil and the roots will have penetrated the soil, breaking it up a bit, and holding the soil, protecting it from eroding with the winter rains. Or, you can spread 5-6 inches of compost or other organic matter over the top of the garden bed to help suppress weeds in the fall and winter months, then till it in to a depth of 10-12 inches in the springtime. After planting your garden, mulch the bare soil with additional organic matter (to help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds). It will take several seasons of amending your soil to produce a fertile, well-draining planting medium that produces bountiful harvests, but the labor is worthwhile and you'll be rewarded with healthy, happy plants.

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