Considerations for Market Gardeners: Soil Preparation - Frequently Asked Questions

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 What does soil preparation accomplish?
While many producers of large scale field crops are moving toward minimum or no-till systems, market garden crops are poor competitors and require a high level of soil preparation. The purpose of soil preparation is to prepare the soil and improve the quality of the seedbed prior to planting. Incorporation can reduce the amount of trash on the soil surface, break up hardened or compacted areas or control early weed growth. Soil preparation can increase soil temperature, improve water distribution within the seedbed, increase the likelihood of good seed to soil contact and improve seed germination and subsequent plant growth.

A good seedbed is...
  • Level
  • Uniformly compact
  • Evenly moist
  • Free from lumps/chunks/rocks
  • Free from hard layers or crusts
How is soil preparation accomplished?
Soil preparation is essentially tillage or cultivation, with the soil left in a varying state of coarseness, depending on the method.

Primary Cultivation is essentially practices that deeply cut and penetrate the soil profile. This may be done to break new land, break up hardpan layers and generally stir up the soil beyond the typical seedbed profile. The resulting soil is fairly rough textured, depending on the state of the soil prior to cultivation. The tools used to accomplish this may include plows, breaking discs and rotary tillers.

Secondary Cultivation tends to pulverize the soil, levelling and firming the soil in the seedbed. The finished product is fairly smooth and should require little work prior to planting. Tools used to accomplish this include disc harrows, cultivators, diamond harrows and rotary tillers (rototillers or rotovators).

Further Operations may include rolling or packing, shaping into beds, hilling, laying plastic mulch and/or drip irrigation lines, trenching, rock picking, etc.

Prepared by Robert Spencer, Alberta Ag-Info Centre, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Robert Spencer.
This document is maintained by Brenda McLellan.
This information published to the web on April 28, 2004.
Last Reviewed/Revised on September 5, 2017.