When you think you're ready to plant, the first thing to do, probably even before you acquire your plants, is prepare the soil. It is a far, far better thing to deal with the soil before you plant than after — a berry bush, fruit tree, or strawberry patch is a major landscape investment, and there's no sense in cutting corners from the get-go.
Good-quality soil is especially important when raising edibles. You want your crop to be both safe and tasty. Do a soil test on the intended spot (buy a kit, follow the directions, mail the sample into a lab, and await recommendations — for more information, see Chapter 13).
Because you remember to name on the form the sort of fruit you intend to raise (hint, hint), the recommendations for soil improvement that come back from the lab are tailored to that crop. For example, blueberry bushes prefer a lower pH, so the lab may suggest that you add some sulfur to make your ground more acidic; peach trees and certain European grape cultivars like conditions a bit more alkaline, and some supplemental lime may be in order. Note that these amendments take time to move through the soil, so try to add them the fall prior to spring planting.
Organically rich soil, not surprisingly, is ideal. It offers a slow-release reservoir of nutrients your fruit-bearing plants need and relish. Dig some in ahead of time, and replenish it at least annually. It lightens heavy clay soil and improves sandy soil, making the entire area more hospitable to plant roots. Good choices include compost, well-rotted manure, rotted sawdust, chopped up leaves, and spent mushroom soil. Yes, adding periodic doses of fertilizer can also help your crop along, but you need this initial foundation.
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