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Sonlit Acres

Encouraging sustainable living

Starting Out With Basic Hand Tools

I'm going to get started with the basics of gardening for folks who are coming here that may be looking to learn or just getting started on planting a garden. So I'll start at simply beginning.

If you know someone who is just starting out or would like to learn before they get started please send them here for our lesson on the garden. I know it seems crazy to talk gardening this time of the year, but there is plenty to cover in this series about gardening. I am hoping to post something at least once a week or more often if it appears we're are running behind. Please take the time to join our mailing list if you would like to be informed by email when we post on our news page or have made changes to this site.   

Breaking ground:

My very first garden was some 31 years ago. It was only ten feet by twenty feet, and with only a shovel, hoe and a rake I began to spade it with the shovel. With my back to the garden site I dug in and turned the sod over burying the roots and the grass, working my way across the width of the garden until the end was reached. I waited a couple days and then started chopping the soil to loosen it as well as I could. The garden was chopped several times over several days to make the soil as fine as I could. If one wanted they could pull the sod up and shake all the soil out of the roots and place them in a compost pile for composting. This would help to make a finer seed bed that is easy to dig and smooth out for planting. In my area rocks are plentiful and I think sometimes I can grow them better than anything. But rocks aren't such a bad thing to have, as they deposit minerals into the soil. I don't pay much attention to them if they are smaller than a baseball, anything bigger is removed.

Ground that has never been prepared should be done in the fall after mowing down any weeds turn the soil exposing the roots to the air. In areas that freeze it will do a good job of killing off many weeds and help break up the soil for you. Spading it a couple more times in the spring should be all that you need to do to make a plant able seed bed. If you know someone with a tiller or tractor you may be able to hire them to do the digging to save much time and work.

Types of soil

Sandy soil:

 If your soil reminds you of the children's sand box you have sandy soil. With sandy soil you can plant earlier in the season because it dries out and warms up sooner. Soil particles don't stick together therefore it remains loose allowing water to drain through faster. Sandy soil will need to be watered more often than other soils.

 Clay soils:

 Clay soil is normally fertile, but is heavy and prevents good drainage, and can't be worked as early as sandy soil. Clay soil particles are flat. They would remind you of a deck of cards scattered on a table. The soil particles compress and become slick when wet and hard when dry.

Some people try to improve clay soil by adding truckloads of sand to it. Nice thought but it really doesn't work very well. You would need a huge amount of sand to make a difference; the best way to deal with clay soil is to make raised beds to overcome drainage problems.


Loam is what we all look for or wish we had. If you have loam you have it made, it is easy to work. It is very fertile rich in organic matter and drains well but retains enough moisture for plants to thrive.

No Matter what soil type you have it will benefit from adding organic matter, organic matter will change the characteristics of any soil. It is very important to any garden. We use literally tons of organic matter a year in our garden. We have clay soil and this past year has been the best year we have had on it. It has taken several years adding compost, leaves and animal manures to make considerable gains but has paid off.

Organic Matter:

Organic matter is something that is alive or once was alive. When we are done with our harvest everything is turned back into the garden with either a tiller or moldboard plow. That makes up for allot of organic matter. Allot of people don't realize how much organic matter is in the roots of most of their crops. Once plowed under the garden is usually covered with mulch or is harrowed and winter rye is planted.   

When soil is moist and the temperature is warm, Organic matter will decompose. Many soil organisms attack organic matter and feed off it. Earth worms are probably the best known, but bacteria, fungi and mites are also there after their share of what they call food. They are all excellent workers in the garden but require a steady supply of organic matter to remain doing their job. 

Earth worms digest organic matter and deposit castings in the soil, worm castings are high in nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium. Where ever earth worm are you will have extra nutrients in the soil. If you dig your garden and notice you don't have many earth worms in it the best way to get them there is to add organic matter. Even if you bought some and placed them there they couldn't stay unless they have a good food supply. So the bottom line in regards to your soil. "If you build it they will come." Organic matter helps dry soils retain moisture and helps heavy soils drain better.  

When organic matter breaks all the way down it is called humus. Humus retains water very well and in sandy soil it can make up a large part of its moisture retaining ability. In clay soil humus's particles wedge themselves between the flat plates and keep them apart, allowing for better drainage. Giving all soils a steady supply of organic matter will keep the soil alive and healthy, by feeding it a steady diet of organic matter.

Next time we will touch on testing your soil.



Genesis 2:15   And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. 

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