Turning Sod Into Garden Soil

Mort Mather shares his helpful gardening techniques for turning sod into garden soil when preparing the winter garden.

| December 1995/January 1996

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    Breaking soil: Mow an approximately 30 square-foot area for first-planting.
    DANA PIERSON
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    Early cold weather is as much a time of renewal as spring.
    PHOTO: DANA PIERSON
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    The ground is cleared and prepared for the next year's planning and planting.
    DANA PIERSON
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    Then the spring rows are set, soil nutrients replenished, seeds planted, and a year's worth of fresh vegetables begins to sprout.
    DANA PIERSON
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    A bird's-eye view of one of our earliest gardens, circa 1973.
    DANA PIERSON
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    Dig the area, separate the roots from the soil, and pulverize the soil with your hands to prepare a seed bed
    DANA PIERSON
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    Here I plant cucumber seeds in an isolated, mulched (with grass clippings) area. The developing plants will then spread over the new bed.
    DANA PIERSON
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    There is a tremendous luxury to a good power tiller, but I still tend my acre of market garden largely by hand.
    DANA PIERSON
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    The Mather family, harvest fall of 1977.
    DANA PIERSON

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Learn helpful techniques for turning sod into garden soil for your winter garden. 

Turning Sod Into Garden Soil

Early cold season is an ideal time to start a new garden or expand the old one, and getting the soil in shape is always the first step. Mort's "lazy technique" of fertilizing new soil and preparing the seed bed makes planning your spring garden a pleasure. 

When I bought the 150-plus year-old house and 100 acres in Maine in 1969, I had no thoughts of be coming a back-to-the-lander. It was an investment. Then, I fell in love that same year with Barbara, and a few years later with the land. We have been living in the now 175-plus year-old house since 1972 and we are currently planning our 24th garden.

In many ways, not much has happened to us during that time. Our phone number and address are the same, but the dead elms that surrounded the house when we bought it were used for firewood years ago and replaced with maples. They were twigs when we planted them. Now they tower over us, as do our children. And our garden this year will be in the same place the first one was.



Breaking Soil  

There are two jobs that need to be done before planting season begins: A seed bed needs to be prepared and the soil needs to be fertilized. Our first garden was hand dug with a spade. That's the way my father prepared his garden. If he could do it, so could I. I was digging it for Barbara to plant half a dozen tomato plants. Converting sod to garden soil is not an easy task but hand-digging is not the worst method. As I recall, I even enjoyed it. I would have to jump on the spade with all my weight to cut through the mat of grass and roots. The first spadeful had to be cut on all four sides before it could be dislodged and turned. But it got easier. The second spadeful only had to be cut on three sides and after the first row was turned it only took two jumps to turn a clump of sod.






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