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Article from: Articles.DirectoryM.com
author: Jim Hillibish
Gardening in spring holds many temptations, the most irresistible being the urge to start early.
This one must be resisted. Digging a bed too early produces one of the great mistakes of soil scratching — rock-hard dirt farmers call “pugged” or hard-pan. It can take months to fix this by spreading and tilling in compost and mulched leaves.
All winter, our soil has been wet. That’s winter’s gift to us. It recharges the water table.
In spring, the soil begins to dry out, evaporating from top on down. But rains and frosts persist. Frosts can wet soils even if there is no rain. For this reason, many gardeners wait until the last frost date to dig.
Soil in most areas is a combination of clay and humus (top soil). Wet clay when mixed creates bricks. Digging changes its structure, like making cement. When this soil dries, it pulls apart and cracks. It does not contain the oxygen required for root growth, and it compacts on drying, sealing out the rain.
Organic additives such as compost and shredded leaves make the soil friable, meaning light and fluffy with plenty of air and water drainage to the roots. As you dig, you can see the effect. You’ll notice dark, rich soil on top soon ranging to the light browns of clay.
Rocks live in the clay zone, working their way to the surface with the heaving and subsiding of frozen soil.
The test for dryness is easy. Grab a handful of dirt, squeeze it and see if it balls up or oozes water. If it does, it’s too wet to dig. Allow at least two days of drying after a rain or heavy frost.
You’ll know when the soil is right. It breaks up on the shovel and requires a lot less effort.
Walking on wet soil is as bad as digging. This compacts it, resulting in impossibly tough dirt.
One way around this is to create raised beds. These are mounded-up dirt mixed with organics with access paths between them. Raised beds are light and airy, and you never walk on them. They require a lot less cultivation over the years.
The downside is raised beds dry out fast in the heat and wind of summer, so water more and mulch your plants.
Make sure your soil is dry before tilling. Tillers are violent machines. On wet soil, they can be plant killers. Note that too much tilling even of dry soil can harm its structure. Never till soil to a powder-like texture.
some stuff there I had forgotten!