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Want to know how to start a garden from scratch? This is the ultimate guide to garden soil preparation for newbie gardeners!
Ok, now let's be honest. Instagram made me do it. Since spring I've seen people gardening and shrugged it off. This summer? I hopped on the bandwagon. I wanted to garden too! Here's the deal….I don't even like DIRT. I had no idea was I getting into. You have to laugh, because……had I known what a process garden soil preparation would be, I never would have started. But you know what else I am? Stubborn. If I start something, I have to finish it.
So I did it. I turned our hard as a rock, clay soil filled and abandoned plot into a garden (well at least the dirt preparation part). We moved into our house in San Diego a little over a year ago…..and this plot? Was empty. Dirt and an old palm tree stump. When my garden fantasy began, I knew it was the perfect space to turn into a small vegetable garden. I gathered my essential gardening tools, and got to work!
How to Start a Garden From Scratch: Garden Soil Preparation
< can you believe this before? the rocks were out of control! >
Here are the steps I took in our garden soil preparation process.
Stump Removal: The first step for us? Was removing the old palm tree stump. Now, while we could have used stump remover and TRIED to do it ourself…..it seemed like a pretty big undertaking. We hired a tree removal service. They ground out the stump and removed it's pieces. They also remarked that there were a LOT of rocks in the plot (that should have been a warning right?)
Remove Large Rocks: Yes, I know that roots can grow around rocks. But did you see the HUGE rocks I pulled out of the plot? There were so many, that I worried they would make it hard for plants to grow. Plus, I was trying to remove a few inches of clay soil so that we could add in healthy garden soil for planting and the more rocks I removed? The lower the soil level. Fast forward over a thousand large rocks, some sore arms and hands……and the rocks were MOSTLY gone. At least the larger ones.
Soil Level and Clay Soil Tilling: Now here's the part of garden soil preparation that took……three weeks. Since our soil is HARD clay soil, it was a slow process. Breaking apart the soil, removing the dead palm tree roots (they're STUBBORN) and taking away enough soil to lower the plot's dirt level about 3 or 4 inches. We could have a used a rototiller, but…..I ended up doing it all by hand with a hand tiller. There were still so many large rocks I was afraid they'd break a machine (and I removed more of them as I went by hand)…..plus I had a little fear about lines under the bed. So, one day at a time. I broke apart the dirt and worked my way through. It was exhausting, but it was the best way to work through the heavy clay and to really turn it over. Shop Hand Tillers Here:
Build and Install Raised Bed: After a LONG set of days digging and tilling…..I took a break to build and install our raised bed. The galvanized raised bed we got? Was SUPER easy to put together and the perfect size for our smaller garden plot. Shop Raised Beds Here:
Layer of Healthy Garden Soil: So if you watched as I worked on this step on Instagram stories, then you know we had a few bumps in the road. By we, I mean me. I went to the Garden Center and picked up what I thought was soil to create a nice layer of healthy soil for our vegetable garden. What I actually bought? Was amend for the soil. I needed that, but it wasn't enough on it's on. So back to the store I went. The second time I got it right. Six bags of soil, spread over the broken up clay soil was the perfect amount. I got about 3-4 inches of nice healthy soil ready for planting.
Amend the Soil: Working on amending your soil? Why? You're basically adding essential nutrients to your soil to create a better environment for your plants and crops. Since our soil is……terrible, I used a great amendment and then added worm casting after that.
Worm Castings: All my garden friends swore that worm castings were a requirement for my garden. Not a ton, but just a light sprinkling on top, then mixed into the soil.