How To Prepare Soil For Spring Planting

Q: I have gotten a plot at my town’s community garden. I am wondering what I should be doing to prepare the soil for spring planting. Add compost? 

A: Much of your success in the plot will depend on how quickly the soil drains after it rains and how well it keeps an open structure so oxygen can reach the roots. For soil that is mostly clay, or mostly sand, compost improves the situation. But if your soil already contains an excess of composted organic matter, it won’t drain very well after a rain. Here is a test you can perform: find an empty quart jar and fill it halfway with your soil. Fill it the rest of the way with tap water. Shake it vigorously and allow it to stand for a day or so. The soil components will settle out in sequence. Heavy particles, like sand, will be on the bottom and tiny particles, like clay, will settle on top. Silt is between the two. Ideally, you want to see equal layers of each, plus a thin layer of black organic matter floating on top. Once you have added anything the soil needs physically, it’s good to know what nutrients it contains. I have details on this process at

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