Soil Preparation for Planting (In the Garden 2018 Episode 4)

In In the Garden by WDEV Radio

Planting Seeds and Sets in the Garden

Original Air Date: May 19, 2018

Last week we went into more details about Planning the Garden. This week let’s talk about what to do with those seeds and sets you grew or bought and soil preparation. But let me remind folks that the podcast is available anytime online, but also the write up of my monologue is posted with the podcast.  I often don’t get through my monologue so it might be worth reading separate from the podcast.

I don’t know about you, but with all the plant sales I’m chomping at the bit to get planting.  And as tempting as it is to plant today, it is best to wait the extra week before you plant the frost sensitive plants unless you have bullet proof way to protect you plants from a hard frost, I discourage you because the soil is still cool from the late spring.  But don’t hesitate to plant to frost hardy plants like all of your cole plants, broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts, collards, as well as lettuces, spinach, beets, chard and all the cool weather plants.

Soil Preparation

If you have raised bed, bed prep is pretty simple.  You can just rake the surface and make sure all the weeds are pulled, fertilize the bed and then plant.  Some folks use a broad fork to do a deep till without turning the soil.  If you plan to roto-till the garden then you’ll need to let the soil dry out a little to avoid making a hard pan where the tine spank the sub soil and pack it down.  After you rake, level and fertilize the bed you’re ready to plant. 

Planting Seeds

If you planting seed have only the seed pack you are planting out in the garden and open, the rest of your seeds should be indoors or at least in a shaded spot in a box or plastic container so the package does not touch bare ground.  The paper packaging will absorb moisture from the ground a reduce the viability of the seeds left over for the next planting.  Check the packet for the key information for planting, how much space between plants after thinning.  Use the grid method for you planting in raised beds.  For row planting seed into a shallow depression then cover with fine soil and water.

Planting Sets

Prepare the sets by hardening off to make sure the plants are acclimated to the cooler outdoor temperature and conditions. Most of the plants that you buy are hardened off already, but if you grow your own indoors you will definitely need to give the plants a gradual transition to the harsher conditions outside in the garden. I plant my sets into a slight bowl like depression, so it is easier to water because the water pools and soaks into the root zone.  Firm the soil around the plant then water.

Getting the Plants Ready

To get the plant out of the 6-pack tray don’t pull them out by the stem!  But rather squeeze the individual cell with the tray tipped on one side.  The root ball and plant will fall out of the tray cell.

If your tomato plants are 8” tall prune the lower leaves, and plant 6” in the ground and leave 2” above ground.  If the plants are taller than 8” then dig a trench and lay them down leaving 2-3” above ground.  Bending the plant up can be tricky, I’ve actually broken off the top of a plant or two, to my horror, but I found a cool way to let nature do the bending for me.  I discovered by accident that when you lay your tomato sets down (mine fell over and I didn’t notice) they will bend up towards the sun all on their own making it perfect to transplant.

The reasoning behind the trench vs a deep hole is that the root ball developes only in that top 6 inches.  I always envisioned the stem growing a mass of roots all along the stem so I used to plant them in a deep hole until I happened to dig a plant up at the end of the year.  I noticed there was the original root ball at the bottom and only other root mass was the top 6” of soil.  In contrast when you lay them down the whole stem puts out roots. 

Feeding New Plants

Once the plants are in the ground water them slowly with a weak tea of liquid sea kelp or fish emulsion letting the water soak in around the roots.  If you use a plastic cup it is easy to place the water individually as you plant.  This leaves the rest of the bed dry and less likely to grow weed plants.   Water every day for the first week, the cut back to every other day the second week.  After that water once a week all summer with 1 cup per plants or about three cups per square foot.

The best weather to transplant is a cloudy overcast day.  Second best is a sunny day that gets cloudy and rains.  Best for the plant but not for you! 

This time of year you will have to wear your amour to protect from black flies. And don’t forget to shower and to have you spouse check for ticks.  It has become perilous out there!  It is not a nicety it is a MUST.  Have fun and I look forward to hearing you questions next week.

Listener Questions

Cooked Compost

Q: Betty in Northfield asked about ‘cooked’ compost and if was really a necessity.  Also her son’s tomato plants had Black End Rot on them, what was the cause and remedy.

A: The idea that the compost is ‘cooked’ is not correct because the heat of a compost pile is the product of decomposing organic matter and not from external heat.  Still it is really, REALLY important that the compost get hot enough to kill weed seeds.  I got compost from a neighbor that did not get the high temperature needed to kill the weed seed and it took three years to finally get all the weed seeds out of my garden!  That experience is the reason I only use bagged compost and recommend that in my garden classes.  As to the second question about Blossom End Rot on tomato plants, it is caused by a lack of calcium but even if there is enough calcium in the soil uneven or sporadic watering is more likely the cause.  Make sure you have a watering routine that gives the tomato plants a deep watering of about a gallon of water every week. 

Perfect Soil

Q: Lee at WDEV asked what was the formula for the garden bed soil.

A: the ‘Perfect Soil’ mix is 1/3 each Peat Moss, Compost and Vermiculite.  In a 4’x4” bed that is about 3 five gallon buckets of each to fill a bed 6” deep.  The Peat Moss is rich in organic matter, the compost inoculates the soil with microbes and offers some fertilizer, and the vermiculite is a soil conditioner.  Vermiculite will absorb a very large quantity of water in wet conditions and slowly releases it as the soil warms. Also it helps to areate the soil for good root penetration into the soil.


Q: Fred in Monkton Ridge said that he used a new product offered by Gro Compost company called Canvas that did an exceptional job of envigorating his plants.

A: I had not heard of it but promised to look into, I might like to use it on my heavy feeders.

Asparagus Question

Q: Andy in Plainfield asked what is the ratio of harvest spears to unharvested spear in his Asparagus patch. 

A: Actually you harvest ALL of the spears for about three week then let the plants grow to maturity for the rest of the season.  It is important to water and feed the plants during the summer, you are investing in the future.  Composted manure and a good general purpose organic fertilizer will produce hardy root stock that will produce a great crop next spring. 

Wild Raspberries

Q: Bill in South Woodbury has a patch of wild raspberries that are not producing and would like to get rid of them. 

A: It might be a loosing battle but start by mowing the patch down to the ground, cover with a couple of layers of landscape cloth.  After a few weeks plant grass seed and plan to mow it every week until the roots die out. 

Rubber Mulch and Cucumber Plants

Q: Rich in Starksboro called to say how nice it was to work in a garden with permanent pathways.  He only had the landscape cloth down but was considering using rubber mulch for the pathways.  Also Rich asked how many Cucumber plants to plant on a 4’ trellis.

A: I was not aware that there was any such thing a rubber mulch!  A quick search let me know it is very popular for kids’ playgrounds and the claimed it was perfectly safe. 

Plant 8 cucumber plants on a 4’ trellis, 2 plants per square foot.  Cucumbers love to grow on a trellis, and there are many advantages to a trellis.  The cukes don’t get yellow on one side, the slugs can’t get to them, the Cucumber Beetle don’t seem to bother these plants and Powdery Mildew does not effect the plants with the generous air circulation around a trellis. 

That’s it for this show see you in two week, the Red Sox preempt us next Saturday May 26, 2018.  Next show is Saturday June 2, 2018.

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