How to prepare your soil for sowing and planting veg

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

To give your seeds and plants the best possible start, it's important to prepare the soil properly before planting them, here's how

Time and effort spent on this somewhat tedious task will reap rewards later in the season by providing a healthy, fertile environment for your plants to live. It can be hard going, but digging and forking keeps you fit, and your veg will thank you for it by growing plump and prolific. Here’s how best to prepare a bed...

 

Weed 

Unless you diligently mulched or covered your soil with weed suppressant matting at the end of last year, the chances are that weeds will have moved in on your patch. Your first job should be concerned with their removal, so dig down deep to remove them, roots and all. Some perennial pests such as dandelions, nettles and thistles need only the slightest slither of root left behind to regenerate, so be diligent. It’s also worth pulling out some of the bigger stones and rocks whilst you are at it—our arch-nemesis bindweed has a habit of exploiting the crevasses they create, so leave no stone unturned.  

 

Dig (or fork) 

This job is better suited for when the soil is slightly moist rather than baked dry or saturated. If it’s been raining, you’ll be wise to wait, as working wet earth— especially if your soil makeup contains clay—can be particularly tough going. Grab your finest fork and work over the soil, turning and breaking up into a crumbly structure, bashing any large clods you unearth with the back of your fork. If a spade is your weapon of choice, work methodically along your patch, driving the spade into the soil, right up to the top of its blade (this depth is called a ‘spit’, a measurement you will often see referenced in old gardening books). Turn each spadeful of soil back into the hole from where it came. Dig... Turn... Repeat...  

 

Feed 

Once you have turned and loosened your area, it’s a good idea to add some organic matter to improve the soil. Well-rotted manure is our dressing of choice—simply spread it thick and even over your patch and give it another loose forking (or spade-ing) to mix it in. Nitrogen-rich chicken manure pellets are also a great addition—potatoes in particular can’t get enough of the stuff. Sprinkle over your designated area and work them into the soil. 

Something we are experimenting with this year is biochar (we sourced ours from Carbon Gold). Biochar is essentially organic matter that has been carbonized under high temperatures, and whilst this may sound all space-aged and fancy, its use can be traced back to the ancient civilizations of Amazonia, who would farm using charcoal-rich black soil known as ‘Terra Preta’. Biochar promises to promote strong plant health, improve drainage and help with nutrient retention so we’ve got high hopes for our beetroot and cabbages

 

Rake 

For a final flourish, you’ll want to level off the surface of your freshly prepped patch. Grab yourself a rake and draw it back and forth across the soil, paying attention to the corners and sides of your plot. You will find that your raking will drag stones and debris to the sides, so stoop down and gather them up for removal. Give the area a final once-over for weeds, then stand back and admire your work. 

Read more: Five seeds you can harvest quickly

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