The condition of the soil is the single most important factor in gardening. A healthy soil discourages disease, grows strong plants to survive insect attacks and encourages abundant crops. More problems or disappointments stem from poor soil preparation than from any other cause. If your soil is not properly prepared, you're finished before you've even begun. The better the soil, the better the harvest. All plants need air, water, and nutrients from the soil in order to grow. Every soil needs preparation every year. The preparation steps to take depend on the type of soil. There are three basic types: clay, loam, and sand.
CLAY: A potter's pleasure but a gardener's nightmare. The particles of clay soil hold water and force out air. forming a solid mass that is slow to dry out and when it does, becomes rock hard. When organic matter is worked into clay soil, the clay will effectively hold the nutrients that vegetables need to grow.
SAND: Ideal at the beach but trouble in the garden. Sand particles leave plenty of space for air but water and nutrients wash right out, making it hard for all but very drought-tolerant plants to survive.
LOAM: Gardener's gold. This is what we all strive for. Somewhere between clay and sand, containing organic material that gives it a fluffy, light texture. The best soil in any garden is the top few inches where decaying plant roots, leaves and other organic matter naturally decay. This is called the top soil. For a vegetable garden more than for any other kind of garden, you need a deep loam 8 or 12 inches deep. Loamy soils are physically easy to prepare, and weeding and watering are easier too.
This isn't difficult to achieve, but will be more time-consuming the first year than in years to come. Every year compost will have to be dug into the soil. As you continue to grow crops, they deplete the soil of nutrients which must be replenished. Compost adds nutrients, increases water retention, and is light enough to allow air to stay in the soil.
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