February is a great time to get your garden tilled (in Upstate SC). You will of course need to pay attention to the weather and rain conditions (see bottom of article). At this time you can also start planting things like cauliflower, broccoli, and spinach. I am especially excited since my wife and I just moved, so we are going to be trying out our garden in a new location this year. We are hoping for the best!
If you would prefer to look into building a raised bed instead of tilling up your ground, please check out the following article: How to build a raised bed garden.
Here are a few things to consider before you start:
- You want to check the soil conditions before you start tilling. If it is too wet it will clump together and eventually dry into hard chunks. A little moisture however will make it easier to till. You also want to check that the soil is warm enough. Slightly frozen soil will be difficult to till.
- Pay attention to the type of soil you have. Soil that is mostly clay compacts and doesn't drain well. Sandy soil drains too well and doesn't hold enough moisture. Sand does however provide good aeration. Loamy soil provides the best texture for growing plants. It is just porous enough to allow water to slowly drain but not remain water logged. Loam soil is a combination of clay, silt, and sand. However, just adding sand to clay soil or adding clay to sandy soil will result in a cement-like mixture. Unless you believe you can grow watermelon and cucumbers in bricks, I would suggest an ongoing process of adding organic matter into your soil every year in order to create the ideal texture.
Now that you are ready to start the following are the steps I took to get my garden ready for planting.
Know where your utility lines are
The first thing I did before doing any digging was call 811 to have the utility companies come out and let me know where my utility lines are. I would have felt quite bad if I took out my neighbors utilities in our first month here, not to mention the potential danger involved. It's an easy process. Each state has it's own number, however dialing 811 will get you to the right "call before you dig" center. The 811 number will not work with a couple of phone carriers however. If this is the case for you, you can visit http://call811.com/811-your-state. Here you can click on your state and it will provide the number for your location. They will contact your utility companies to schedule for them to come out and mark where the underground lines are. They will usually come out within 2-3 working days. My electric company came out the very next day.
Pick your spot
After I knew where the lines were, I used stakes to mark where I wanted my new bed. I went with a 20x30' bed this year. I paid careful attention to where shade was being cast in my yard throughout the day. I wanted to be sure to allow for the most direct sunlight especially in the morning and throughout the early afternoon.
Bring in compost
I then had 8 cu yards of compost (mostly leaf compost with some poultry litter mixed in) delivered and dumped near my new garden site. I went a little heavy on the compost this year since I was starting fresh and had just red clay to work with. I will be applying a much thinner layer in upcoming years. That being said, after having completed the task, I would recommend about 5-6 cu yards for this size garden. I ended up with more than I needed.
Till your garden
After the compost was delivered, I went ahead and tilled the area I had staked off leaving me with a nice bed of red clay.
Layer your garden with compost
After that I went through the intense labor of shoveling, wheelbarrowing, and dumping 8 cu yards of compost on top of the freshly tilled garden. Using a garden rake, I then quickly spread out the piles I had dumped.
Mix in the compost
I then did a final run over my garden with the tiller to mix the compost in with the native soil to produce a nice loam consistency.