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Name: joel morris
macon ga
joelmorris
Jun 29, 2016 8:25 PM CST
I am currently growing my first vegetable garden. It is producing pretty well. Could be better. Today is June 29th in middle GA. My garden area is 1000 square feet. My question is how to prepare my soil for planting next spring and when. Thanks.
Thumb of 2016-06-30/joelmorris/995847

Name: Sue Taylor
Northumberland, UK
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kniphofia
Jun 29, 2016 10:43 PM CST
There are some vegetable gardening guides here http://garden.org/learn/library/foodguide/veggie/

Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
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Weedwhacker
Jun 30, 2016 7:19 AM CST
Welcome to NGA, @joelmorris -- and welcome to the wonderful world of vegetable gardening, as well!

You can never go wrong with adding lots of organic material to your garden -- compost, leaves, grass clippings, etc. Any diseased plants should be thrown away, not composted or left in the garden. Otherwise, do you have any particular problems with the way your plants are growing? (I think we'd be hard pressed to find any gardener here that wouldn't say "could be better" about their garden... Big Grin )
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
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RickCorey
Jun 30, 2016 4:02 PM CST
Hi Joel. Welcome to NGA! Welcome!

Sandy gave the best advice, universally valid advice: more compost is always helpful.

(Things you can do right now)

I would say that any time you have compost, you can lay it down between rows as a kind of fine, short-lasting mulch.

If you don't have compost, and the garden is too large or the budget is too small to buy enough bags of compost, you can do a combination of mulching, top-dressing and sheet composting. It is easier to do than to type: whatever raw materials you might have put into a compost heap, instead layer them on the ground, between you rows and between your plants.
1. This serves as mulch until it decomposes.
2. It is compost after it breaks down.
3. As it breaks down, rain, insects and worms will carry it, or particles of it, down into the soil where worms carry it everywhere and leave it behind them as worm castings.

That layer can be anywhere from 1 inch deep to 6-8 inches deep! Just don't use stuff that packs down so tightly that it slows down the exchange of air between the soil and air. For example, some leaves will pack into a tight, choking mass when wet. Fine coffee grounds might smother the soil if more than 1" thick. (In which case I would scratch the coffee grounds into the top few inches of soil, to keep that layer loose and open. Just don;t stir or till sawdust or small wood chips into the soil. That stimulates soil microbes with excess Carbon. they grow like heck, and suck ALL the Nitrogen out of the soil. Plant roots can't compete with microbes.

High-Carbon things ("browns") make good top-dress-mulch. High-Nitrogen stuff (greens) can be mixed into soil.

I think you get the most benefit from mulch if it is 1-2 inches deep or more. Then it shades the soil from sun and drying wind. In hot weather, it keeps the soil cooler. In cold climates, it keeps the soil a little warmer all night and into the Fall. It keeps weed seeds from "seeing" the light, so they mostly don't germinate. What does germinate has to push through mulch to reach the Sun, so it is already weakened and energy has been diverted from weed roots to weed shoots. Now you can pull those weeds with two fingers instead of a knife, a hoe and dynamite.

You can hunt for and collect raw materials for compost - coffee grounds, manure, green or brown leaves, grass clippings, paper, sawdust, chopped-up yard waste, fruit stand throw-outs, kitchen garbage. Don't worry that there are many books and thousands of Internet articles on "how to make compost". Just pile up whatever you collect and water it if it dries out below the surface layer. If you like to get fancy, or you're in a hurry, mix it up as you add things, or stir it a little every few weeks or months. That's more than enough - the fact is, "if you pile it, it will rot".

I think opinions diverge more after your last fall crop is out of the ground. Also, the answer you hate to hear: "it depends".
Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Jun 30, 2016 4:17 PM CST
I live in Georgia also but a bit farther south in Savannah. The good thing about your location is that you can have something growing in your garden almost the entire year. Spring plantings in Macon run from January to March/April and fall plantings from July to September/October depending on which vegetables you are growing (and if you are direct seeding or setting out transplants) so I would plan on preparing the soil about a month before each new item is planted.

What are you growing? Would sure like to see some photos of the garden. Thumbs up
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Jun 30, 2016 4:39 PM CST
After the current crops are out of the ground, heavy-duty soil improvement projects can be undertaken.

I think you'll get different classes of advice from "till people" and "no-till people". I think, for the first 2-3 years of improving clay soil, that mixing and tilling soil amendments in deeply (double digging or whatever) helps improve deep drainage and aeration rapidly.

"No-till people" will point out that patience plus worms plus compost gives good results.

Then there are the "Lasagna Gardening People". They don't till, neither do they double-dig, ever. But they do add compost, more compost, and even more compost, making them the smartest people. In effect, they create a huge compost heap 12-18" above grade and grow IN that. They can make a garden on top of concrete or solid granite.

Not all questions are very relevant to every situation, but some that might help us make suggestions useful to YOU are:

Raised bed or regular, ground-level bed?
Clay soil, sandy soil, or perfect soil?
"Light or heavy" soil? That is, is it fluffy and open and airy, or compressed and dense?
How fertile is it now? What was growing there before? I guess "not very fertile" or you wouldn't ask.
I would ask how "organic" the soil is, but if you have not been building it up, I would assume "low in organics"
Is there any slope to work with, or is your yard very level?
good drainage or weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth?
Can you do a lot of digging and wheelbarrowing? Buy soil amendments?
Can find free raw materials to make mulch and compost?

You said "Georgia". I assume "hot summer". Is that dry or wet? Should the soil try to grab and hold every drop of precious water, or is the problem trying to get it to drain away before plants drown?

If the soil is sandy or you don't get much rain, or city water is expensive, you want more water retention. Add compost and fine-textured water-holding stuff like bark fines, peat and coir.

If the soil is clay-ey, my condolences. Add lots of compost. And gritty stuff around the size of BBs (like 0.1 inch diameter). I dug mine out and moved it aside where I could screen it and amend it and let it "mellow" before putting back into my (very small) raised beds.

Screened "grit-sized" evergreen bark that is NOT all fines opens up the soil and (I think) binds some clay and takes it out of "the soup" or pudding that is clay soil. Crushed stone. Very coarse sand. #2 chicken grit. Turkey grit. But mainly compost, because it could take as much as 50% or even 70% sand and grit to balance the effect of even 30% to 50% clay. But compost seems to help even if you can only add 10-20% to the top 8 inches. More compost helps more.

(I used to wonder why compost helps almost every gardening problem, then realized that evolution or co-evolution probably made that true. Plants grow better if they drop leaves that improve the soil. Soil organisms thrive if they do things that make the plants above them thrive (they eat dead plant parts). Any community where plants and soil organisms DIDN'T benefit each other, could not compete with communities where they DID. So plants that drop poor compost-makin's tended to become extinct. Soil organisms that can't eat plant waste and thereby improve the soil, died when the plants above them died. That's just my theory, I don't claim anyone else believes it.)

Also, consider raised beds to improve drainage. if your 1,000 square feet are one big plot, like 50x20, see which way the slope goes and break it into multiple beds, like 20-foot raised beds each 5 feet wide, and ten of them. If you have enough cheap wood or concrete pavers, give them walls, otherwise just excavate a 2-foot wide walkway and throw that soil on top of the 3' wide raised bed. You'll have less growing area by (?) 40%, but deeper and better-drained root zones. Since now you'll only walk in the walkway, the raised soil won't compact.

For some reason, that raised-and-not-walked-on, improved-deep-soil was called a "French Intensive" style of gardening, or for a homebrew name, it's one aspect of "Square Foot Gardening". Also, the New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod had a similar scheme for improving soil by making the rows twice as deep by hoeing or shoveling soil from the "walkways" onto the raised berms or rows.

And the area you need to amend is 40% smaller, so any compost, bark or grit you add can be 40% deeper.

But mainly, by being raised above grade, and well above the walkways, water will drain out quickly and roots can stop drowning and rotting after every rain.

But compost cures all ills. It helps clay bind together into peds or small clods so that there are air channels between the COLDS even if there is no air space between clay grains.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Jun 30, 2016 4:39 PM CST
joelmorris said:I am currently growing my first vegetable garden. It is producing pretty well. Could be better. Today is June 29th in middle GA. My garden area is 1000 square feet. My question is how to prepare my soil for planting next spring and when. Thanks.
Thumb of 2016-06-30/joelmorris/995847

Find a farmer who raises cows or sheep, if need be rent a small truck and haul in a few yards of comparatively fresh manure and dump it on garden in the fall.
Work it in, or if you can get away with it it, leave it until spring and work it in then.

You will be set for at least the next five to seven years depending on what you grow.

Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Jun 30, 2016 4:46 PM CST
After you go through any "Garden Corps of Engineering" scheme that appeals to you, consider a mulch-and-compost alternative, the "cover crop". You would have to ask at a local "feed store" or "farm co-op" to find out the usual cover crops for your area.

If you dedicate the late Fall and Winter to something like buckwheat, Fall Rye, alfalfa, clover, vetch or field peas (or combos), their roots add organic matter. If you plant a legume (ones that have nitrogen-fixing bacteria called Rhizobia bacteria in root nodules) , they will add some Nitrogen to the soil. If you till the stalks under, in the spring, that will add even more organic matter. And while they are growing, they hold the soil in place and shade the soil like mulch.

Some cover crop varieties are especially food in clay soil, or cold climates, or dry soil, or whatever. That's why I suggest going to the local feed store and seeing what cover crop they sell the most of. But they might get cranky if you try to buy fewer than 25 pounds of cover crop seed!

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