According to Miss Duff the best planting signs come after Good Friday this year. This seems a tad late to me, given Easter comes later than usual this year, but I trust Thurman and Miss Duff when it comes to signs and almanac things. I DID bed my sweet potatoes a couple of weeks back, but inadvertently failed to notice we had a frost somewhere along the way (at which point I should’ve covered the bin they were bedded in, dang it); according to Thurman “I rurndt ‘em”. I’m gonna cross my fingers he’ll spot me some of his come time to put ‘em in the ground. (This happens in May….preferably on a root crop planting day.)
Meanwhile, first step (for those of you following along in your hymnals there) is turning the ground. Sometimes we do this as early as November (of last year). Given our crazy winter season this year, mine got turned in February. Better late than never if you haven’t done it at all, but “turning” simply means what it says. You turn your soil over, breaking up whatever’s been growing out there over the course of the winter. (Thurman does mine…with a tilling device on his tractor. This can be also be done manually; all depends on how large your garden plot is and how strong your back is.)
While you don’t have to test your soil, I highly recommend it. It costs next to nothing to do ($5 - $7 a sampling). You can get soil sample boxes at your local co-op or ag extension office. Basically you want to know if your soil leans alkaline or acidic. There are old fashion tests for this (like pouring vinegar over a soil sample to see if it fizzes) but the simpler, more scientific approach is to take samplings from soil about 6” below the surface of things, in various places in your garden (as soil can vary from spot to spot). Run the samples to your ag office. They in turn will run these through the UT ag department’s testing division. It’s well worth the effort to properly get your soil up to snuff. In my own case, mine was in need of some lime (this comes in large bags from the co-op; Thurman’s wife uses the ash from their wood burning stove to replenish theirs). Given the amount my soil was lacking I stocked up on the co-op’s version, having been told I could do this over 2 or 3 planting seasons. (Having had a garden before, it is not uncommon for your calcium to get depleted.) Lime comes in granular form, making it simple enough to spread by hand…It’s well worth the effort. I can speak from experience when I tell you it was night and day difference in the growth pattern of things to have given my soil the nutrients it needed before starting. This year, the goat house got a good cleaning as well, so my lime also came with a bit of goat manure sprinkled in. (For more information on soil testing, visit https://utextension.tennessee.edu/publications/documents/PB1061.pdf)
Now comes tilling time (which is how I spent my day, and why I collapsed on the couch in utter exhaustion by the end of it). I’m sure there are tractor tools for this step but to really get down to brass tacks, this is where I bring out the small tiller. Getting the soil properly prepped (which is to say, large clumps, broken down into manageable soil) is when it starts to feel like we’re gardening. Given that the ground has been dormant all winter long, save for the turning step that Thurman’s tractor helped prepare me for, there is still a ways to go getting the earth ready to receive something so helpless as a little seed or seedling.
Personally, gardening becomes “official” with this step as this is where the muscle weighs in. It's also where we get the expression "shoulder to the plow" which you'll understand instantly once you do it.