In the excitement of spring planting, don't forget the part of the garden beneath the surface. Soil improvement is the most important step for creating a successful garden.
Prepare your planting beds well and your garden will thrive. Loose, crumbly earth that lets in air and moisture and doesn't become waterlogged encourages plant roots to develop.
Be sure your garden has the proper pH (acid-alkaline balance) and fertility. Most county cooperative extension services provide soil testing. Or you can buy a soil-testing kit at a local garden center for about $12. It will tell you if your soil is too acidic (sour) and needs lime, or if it's too alkaline (sweet) and needs sulfur or gypsum. Most perennials like an average pH count of about 6.5.
Soil tends to be acidic in rainy regions, alkaline in desert areas. Midcontinent gardens generally lean toward neutral soil.
Even when very fertile, soil that is too acidic or too alkaline will let plants die of malnutrition because some nutrients don't dissolve as well under acidic or alkaline conditions. The presence of organic matter, such as compost, makes the soils at either end of the spectrum more neutral.
If you want to make compost in a hurry, follow these simple steps.
1. Start with a 6-to 8-inch layer of plant material. (Use spent blossoms, pruned trimmings, lawn clippings, and other garden debris. You can add eggshells, fruit and vegetable peelings, and coffee grounds, too.)
2. Add about an inch of manure or a sprinkle of nitrogen fertilizer (such as the kind made for lawns -- but not with a weed killer included) to each layer of plant material. This gets the pile "cooking."
3. Cover with a 1-inch layer of garden soil.
4. Repeat the layers until the pile is about 4 feet high.
5. Water the compost pile whenever you water the garden.
6. Turn the pile at least once a month so it gets ample oxygen.
Continued on page 3: Bedmaking Basics