Making sure your garden boxes or beds are thoroughly prepared is essential to a good crop. If your soil or mixture is too heavy, most vegetables will not thrive as they would in looser, sandy soil. This isn’t true of all plants, but any that dig their roots deep usually prefer a loose, well draining soil. Last fall when I pulled up everything from the boxes, I added a thick layer of straw, shavings and chicken manure I took directly from the henhouse on top of the boxes and let the girls and nature do most of the work. Personally this is the simplest way to prepare a box, but if you don’t have access to hot manure, simply buy compost and work it in well right before planting.
Once the beds are prepared, it’s time to plant! For tomatoes, a few things that help ensure a fabulous harvest of juicy fruits are plenty of calcium, aspirin and Epsom salt. After digging a good sized hole to cover about two-thirds of the tomato plant (and tearing off all leaves that will be underground) I throw in either a handful of crushed egg shells and a couple aspirin. I like to lightly break up the root ball, but with loose soil it isn’t all that necessary. Fill in with soil and tap lightly around the base of the plant and sprinkle a couple tablespoons of Epsom salt around the plant. This is also when I put wire cages around the plant. I’m trying something new this year, only planting three in a four-foot-by-four-foot garden box with one plant in the northeast corner, one in the northwest corner and one in the south center. We will see if this helps not only with overcrowding but available sun. I also inverted a wire cage between the three and wrapped the ends that normally would go into the ground around one of the rings on each of the cages. Hopefully this will help with stability. If not, it’s just an experiment. For the squash, of which I planted two different kinds of zucchini and some butternut, I used the same technique as the tomatoes as far as placement, but put them all in the center of the box. Squash tends to grow out and over, so I put the mounds only about eight inches apart and will train it go where I want it to go. We’ll see how well this goes.