With the topic of plant foods covered, we now move onto the business of preparing your soil. Most soil will contain food that plants can use, but only some of that food is usable by your plants. To make this food available to your crops, you must cultivate the land and ensure the introduction of water, air and heat. Not only does the soil contain the food on which your plants will feed, it also holds the moisture in which these foods must be dissolved so that your plants can soak up the nutrients.
The three most common types of soil you will encounter are gravelly, sandy and clay soils.
Gravelly soil - this is generally worse than either of the other two. It has the bad qualities of sandy soil and none of the good qualities of clay. This kind of soil is mostly unsuitable for garden work because tillage (preparation of the soil by plowing, ripping, or turning) harms rather than helps this type of soil.
Sandy soil - this is composed largely of sand and is the opposite of clay soil. This type of soil should be handled so that it is kept as compact as possible. If you can get your hands on a heavy roller, this will prove very helpful. If you can get some clay soil, the condition of your sandy vegetable garden can be improved by applying the clay soil as you would manure. Fertilisers will not be well retained by sandy soils so should only be applied immediately before planting or as top and side dressing. Vegetables particularly suited to sandy soil include cucumbers and beans.
Clay soil - this is hard, wet and usually cold - just like clay! For growing vegetables, until this type of soil is properly transformed, it will hold too much water and be difficult to handle. That said, with some work, this type of soil can be adapted to produce great vegetables. Your first task with clay soil is to have it properly drained - make sure any drains are sunk in at least three feet to be most effective. Proper drainage can increase the productivity of your vegetable garden by 50% so it's worth doing. With clay soil, it will also pay to break up the sub-soil so that more water can soak down through the surface soil. Another way of improving clay soil is with coarse vegetable manure, animal manure, sand or woodchips which will help break up and lighten the soil. One last way to improve clay soil is by plowing it up in the fall, exposing the soil to the cold weather and frost.
The first job when preparing your soil is to break up the garden. This should be done as deeply and as thoroughly as possible. This will prove to be hard work but it will be worth it in the long run. If available have a grandson or two do this for you. In the spring, it is common to plow the soil and to work in manure to get it ready for planting. Once you have done this you should make sure the soil is lump free and not stiff. You can do this with a garden fork. Next you should rake the soil so as to make it even and smooth. Whatever tools you use, it is important to leave the soil as fine as possible: on the surface and also as far down as possible. Thorougly smashing up your soil will help make the plant food it contains available for use by your plants. It will also help plants to root deeply which will help them avoid drying out. Smashed up soil will absorb rain evenly and will retain moisture better so that your plants can use it to grow.
If you prepare your vegetable garden carefully and deeply, you will make the soil rich and improve your chances of success tenfold.