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Preparing Your Planter Beds

Planting your own garden can be a very rewarding experience. Digging in the dirt not only leads to a bountiful harvest of healthy homegrown produce, but it may actually be good for your health. Scientific research proves that specific bacteria that thrive in soil release natural anti-depressants that are said to increase serotonin levels, making people feel happier. Some gardeners even turn to work in their yard as their source of meditation to quiet the mind.

When you decide to plant a garden…
There are some steps to follow to ensure that your garden flourishes successfully. Plants must have adequate room for root zone development so they can mature into healthy, hearty producers. The soil they are grown in must allow for proper drainage and contain enough organic material to fulfill the nutrient requirements of the plant varieties being grown. The preparation of the planting area is a crucial step in determining the overall success of your garden.

Raised beds are popular for the backyard gardener…
They are an attractive way to provide your plants with ample room for root expansion and development, and the plants are easier to reach, as the garden is physically closer to you. The construction of raised beds is very simple. Basically, you are building a rectangle. Redwood and cedar are ideal woods to select as they are typically the most resistant to rot. It is recommended to make the walls of your beds at least 1-2 feet in height and no wider that four feet across. This ensures that once the bed is built, you will be able to reach all the plants in the garden with ease and without damaging any of your plants by having to step inside the planting area. The length of the bed will depend on the area you have to work with, but 8 feet is a typical and reasonable length. After the rectangle is nailed together, hardware cloth can be attached to the bottom of the bed to prevent gophers from getting to your plants. Once the bed is built, position it in a nice sunny location and it is ready to be filled with soil.

Healthy soil should consist of…
A pH balanced ratio of clay, sand, minerals, organic matter and living organisms. Too much clay in soil will retain excess water, creating a soggy environment that dries cakey and hard. Too much sand in soil will drain out too fast, leaching out nutrients before they can be absorbed by the plant’s root system. Lack of minerals and organic matter will result in nutrient deficiencies in your plants. Many gardeners choose to buy soil from a garden supply store that is ready to use and full of vital ingredients that plants need. Others choose to mix their own soil, building up organic content using compost and mulch. A happy medium between those options is to make use of the top soil you have in your yard and mix in a few bags of ready to use organic soil such as Fox Farm Happy Frog or Roots Organics Greenfields. Regardless of how you attain healthy soil, the finished product should be a rich, dark brown loamy soil with an earthy aroma that feels spongy to the touch.

Raised beds make sense for small-scale gardening…
The traditional wooden box beds are simple to construct and can even be made out of recycled wood. They do however require construction, which can sometimes be a deterrent to someone seeking something a little more user friendly. The Big Bad Bed by Smart Pot would be a perfect alternative for someone who wants to grow in a raised bed but would rather skip the building part of the equation.  The Big Bag Bed is a round raised bed made of fabric that naturally prunes the roots of plants as they reach the inner wall of the bed. Each “bed” holds 100 gallons of soil and takes up about a 4×4 footprint. Just open the bag, fill it with soil, and let the planting begin!

If a raised bed is not within your budget…
There is another way to give the roots of your plants the space they need to thrive. This is known as the “double digging” method. While it may be a little bit more labor intensive than filling a raised bed, the concept is similar, but rather than building up, you are digging down. In a sense it is almost like an inverted raised bed. The idea is to create deep layers of well-aerated, “fluffy” soil that roots can easily navigate through. Just like a raised bed, a 4 x 8 area is a nice size to work with so you won’t step in the planting zone and potentially damage the fragile roots beneath the soil.

To begin the process, dig a trench…
About 1-2 feet deep and about 1 foot wide, across the length of the bed. Set the soil removed from trench #1 aside. Dig another trench next to the first trench and fill trench #1 with the soil from trench #2, and so forth. When you reach the last trench, fill it with the soil you set aside from trench #1. If the earth you are digging up has grass growing in it, you can remove the grass or turn it upside down at the bottom of the trench you are filling. Break up clumps and clods of soil as you go, pulling out weeds and rocks as necessary. This will aerate and “fluff” the soil making it less dense and compact. Amendments may be necessary depending on the condition of the existing soil. As with the raised beds, store bought organic soil or homemade organic compost can be mixed in with your existing dirt to add beneficial bacteria and microbial life to the soil environment. The finished bed should be raised naturally in comparison to the walkways around it as a result of loosening the compacted earth.

A healthy garden…
Begins with deeply aerated, nutrient rich soil. Using one or more of the methods above should set you on the right track towards building the garden of your dreams. The decision to plant a garden could very well be one of the most important and “fruitful” decisions you ever make. The satisfaction you get from eating homegrown fruits and vegetables fresh from your own yard is truly fulfilling. So pick up a shovel, roll up you sleeves, and start digging your way towards a delicious and nutritious harvest!

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