Posts Tagged ‘Water Gardening’

Koi Ponds

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on July 1, 2008 – 10:31 am

Ever thought of having a Koi pond in your yard but did not know where to start or if you even should put one in your yard. We will try to answer those questions plus more in this months Yard Talk. You will want to be prepared as building and maintaining a Koi pond is much different and time consuming than putting in a simple water feature. It took me about 200 hours to build our pond and then I spend about an hour every week in maintaining the pond. First things first, what minimum size pond should you have.

There are many factors which go into answering this question including how many Koi you want to have in your system. For every Koi you have, you want to make sure to have a little less than one gallon for every inch of Koi. Since most Koi will quickly grow to an average mature size of 32 inches, you will want to have a minimum of 320 gallons for one Koi. Since Koi are social animals, you will want to have at least two Koi or yours will continually try to jump out. Therefore, you are now up to a minimum pond size of 640 gallons. Lets put this into perspective so you can visualize this.

You want a minimum depth of four feet for a Koi pond. So with a pound size of 640 gallons with a depth of four feet, the dimension would then be about seven feet by four feet oval which puts the estimated volume at 658 gallons or about five average size bath tubs. Now you have an estimated size pond you need to build for two Koi. Now lets take a look at construction material and equipment you will need to maintain the pond.

The most common material to line your pond with is a rubber liner with a felt padding to protect the rubber liner from the objects in the soil from puncturing the liner. Here in Florida, I have a very sandy soil and I still used the felt padding to protect the rubber liner as it is important to start with a good foundation. You can use other and more expensive material to build your pond with the best being built like an in ground pool. You have to remember, any cement material must be coated to protect your Koi from the cement leaching its lethal chemicals and material into the pond. Once you have selected the material you are going to use to build your pond, you need to now decide on a design.

Remember from our calculations, we used an oval for our estimations for a 658 gallon pond. For a Koi pond, you do not want to have any ledges as birds, which would love to eat one of your Koi, would find this very helpful getting at your Koi. You also do not want to put any type of gravel in your Koi pond as this would let bad bacterial and sludge collect in your pond which is disastrous for the health of your Koi. Think of it like this, would you want your waste to settle to the bottom of your toilet and stay there for long periods of time? With that said, another important thing to remember in your pond design is to make sure the bottom slopes to one central location for a bottom drain to take away the sediment which will over time deposit on the bottom of your pond. I have mentioned a bottom drain so lets take a look at your plumbing and filtration system which is mandatory for any Koi pond.

Many people put in a bottom drain by putting a hole in the bottom of their pond. I propose a better way is to put in a bottom drain which sits on the bottom with plumbing going to your filter and then pump. I am only going to briefly touch on the filtration system as I could dedicate an entire article to this alone. The basics of a filtration system is to remove the particles in your pond. You can do this with a simple bead filter to a more complex chamber filtration system. You have to match the right filtration system for the pond size along with the water and light conditions. The worse your water is from the water source (municipal/well) and the more light you have hitting the surface of your pond, the better your filtration system has to be to have healthy Koi. For example, if your water source is from city water system, then you will probably need a way to remove the chlorine and the more deadly chloramines which many municipalities are using more-and-more. If you are using well water, you will want more aeration due to the fact well water has little or now oxygen which is also deadly condition for Koi. For my pond, I have two filtration systems. I have a bottom drain going to a bead filter, then external pump, and finally back to the waterfall box. The second utilizes a sediment chamber, skimmer box, bead filter, external pump, two UV Filters, and then to the waterfall box.

This brings up another part of the filtration system which drives the whole system, the pond pump. The more energy efficient and better to power your system is an external pump with a leaf basket attached. Again, the size depends on the size of your pond, the length of plumbing, and the amount of lift from the point of when the water enters the filtration system to when it exits the filtration system. The more length and the more height, the larger pump you need. A simple formula is to divide your pond volume by two to get the size of the pump in gallons per hour it needs to move. In our example, you need a minimum pump size of 329 gph.

The next important piece of equipment to help keep your pond clear is a UV Filter. This kills all small single cell organisms including bacterial and algae and is essential to both the health of your pond and keeping your pond from turning green. The size of the UV Filter is again determined by the pond volume and the light conditions. The larger the pond and more light it is subject to, the larger the size UV Filter. To calculate the minimum size UV Filter(s), you take your pond volume and times it by two to get the minimum rated gallons per hour UV Filter(s) you need. In our example, you would need a minimum UV Filter(s) capable of handling a minimum of 1316 GPH.

As you have read, there are several minimum pieces of equipment you need for a Koi pond and I briefly talked about each or mentioned what I have installed on my pond. You can add a lot more equipment to your pond depending on the size and water conditions you have. I will include several links at the end of this article you can use to do some more research if you are dealing with some special water and site conditions. With each filtration system, you will want to make sure to install several valves so you can isolate each for cleaning, repair, and replacement. I learned this the hard way.

Another important design principle for you Koi pond is to ensure the outside rim is above grade to prevent water runoff from your yard getting into your pond. Both the lawn chemicals and nutrients are not good for your Koi. Along with ensuring the outside rim is above grade, you also want to make sure any decorative rocks are above water grade to prevent your Koi from bumping into them and causing skin lesions which would be an entry point for harmful bacteria.

Even if you do not think you have a lot of wildlife, you may need to install some type of protection for your fish. For my pond in Florida, I have a lot of sea birds which inhabit my area and would love to sit on the side of my pond and pick out my Koi for a treat. To help detour this, I installed a netting over the entire pond. You could install this as a cage type system or laying on top of the pond. My pond designed enabled me to bend conduit to form around the edge of my pond. I then painted the conduit to match my rocks and strung the netting across it tying it down with zip ties. It is a bit unsightly but the alternate is not a viable option.

Now you have the basic Koi pond construction. Now lets look at water chemistry and the important variables for Koi. You will want to measure and manage the following water condition levels. Until I determined a baseline for my pond, I measure these often. Now I have determined my pond is stable so I only measure once a week or when I think something is going wrong with my pond and my Koi health. Measure the following:


  • pH – greater than 7.0

  • Ammonia – 0 ppm

  • Nitrite – 0 ppm

  • Nitrate – 0 ppm

  • Oxygen – greater than 5 mg/l

  • Salinity – 0.05% to 0.10%

  • GH (General Hardiness) – 200-400 ppm

  • KH (Carbonate Hardiness) – greater than 40 ppm

You will want to manage both GH and KH to impact pH. The most important part is to ensure you have stable pH without any pH crashes (sudden pH drop) which will kill your Koi. Again lots can be written about this so I will refer you to a couple good articles on KoiVet.com:

Lets assume you have your pond set up for at least a month and have managed all your above perimeters so that they are all stable. Then and only then would you want to introduce your Koi to the new pond. Realize, your just introduced Koi will be very jumpy the first couple weeks until they are comfortable in their new environment so you will want to watch them very closely. I ensured I had my pond covered with a net to ease my mind as I also learned this the hard way. Remember, you will want to follow a strict quarantine routine when introducing new Koi to your pond to prevent disasters results.

Daily and weekly maintenance is a must. I flush my filters weekly and do a partial 20 percent water change. I also make sure to do a visual inspection of all my Koi and pond to ensure all is going well with them. Since I utilize municipal water supply, I must also treat my pond for both chlorine and chloramine prior to adding any fresh water. You must also feed your Koi daily. Rule of thumb, feed them no more than what they can eat in five minutes, two to three times a day. I have mine set up with an automatic feeder using a Koi Cafe which is worth the price. The downside using an automatic feeder, my Koi are not as friendly as they were when I was hand feeding them as they would beg when I walked up to the pond. Now they hide from me.

I am sure many of you are now saying, is it worth all the effort and it is very important you think about that as taking one week off, could have disastrous consequences. For me it is worth all the effort.

Favorite Koi Links

Utilize the following links on better Koi Health and Pond Construction:

Koi General Health

Test Kits

Supply Companies

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Water Gardening Maintenance

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on August 1, 2001 – 5:54 pm

While last month we briefly covered most of the basics of water gardening, this month we are going to focus on the maintenance aspects of water gardening. We will assume you are managing or interested in a small to medium size pond with both animal and plant life in Zone 5. Since we are in the midst of summer, we will begin there: 

Summer Maintenance 

Summer is the season our ponds are at its peak glory with vibrant and showy plants. Plant growth is at its maximum along with feeding demand. This increase activity increases the stress put on your pond’s biological system so more intense attention must be given to it. 

The first part and probably the most important part of your pond’s biological system is the filtration system no matter how simple it may be. For the simple pond without animal life but with mechanical water movement, you will need to keep the sponge filter to the pump clean along with any other filter systems you may have added to enhance the filtration (i.e. mechanical filtration media, chemical filtration media, biological filtration media). The best way to measure the success of your filtration system is to measure the amount of ammonia and nitrites dissolved in the water. Too high of each indicates a problem with your pond’s biological system which can be fixed with additional and improved filtration, improved feeding, and/or decreased fish stock. (Note: Newly established ponds must mature for approximately a month before the natural nitrogen cycle, Ammonia – Nitrite – Nitrate, establishes itself. As the nitrogen cycle establishes itself, you will see spikes in each in progression.). 

The second part of your pond’s biological system is the plant life. Plant pest activity is at its most vigorous during the summer months. Make sure to watch for pest activity and take action promptly since these problems can spread at an alarming rate. Remove all dead and damaged leaves and blooms on a regular basis to prevent increased biological load on your filtration system from the rotting plant matter. Healthy plants should be thinned out as appropriate along with dead leaves and blooms. 

It is probably obvious that evaporation is a significant problem during the summer especially with fountains, cascades, waterfalls, little surface cover from plants, and high air temperature. Topping with water on a small and frequent basis will not generally require dechlorination treatment for people using municipal water sources and will replace the water lost during the hot summer months. 

The last part of your pond’s biological system to watch is the amount of dissolved oxygen since these amounts may drop significantly during hot and humid nights. Aeration from a fountain or venturi attachment should be left running at all times. If you do not have these available, spraying the surface with a mist of water from a garden hose in late evening will help. 

Autumn Maintenance 

Autumn is the season we start seeing the reduction of biological activity in our ponds. As long as you keep your pond and its surroundings from deteriorating to the point where conditions will adversely affect the health of the fish and other aquatic life, the maintenance needs are much less. 

The major objective in maintaining your pond in autumn is to prepare your plants and fish for the transition into winter making sure to protect the tender species and varieties from the cold. Bring the needy ones indoors into the warmer environment and move the more hardy varieties into deeper water. 

Another daunting part of maintaining your autumn pond’s biological system is keeping the autumn leaves out of your pond. Any leaves that drop onto the pond must be removed regularly to stop them from sinking to the bottom and rotting. Covering the pond with netting may look unsightly, but it is the most effective way of keeping leaves off the water and is only needed for a few weeks in autumn. 

Before the really cold weather sets in, the last part of your autumn maintenance, cleaning and repairing your pond equipment, should be preformed. You should preferably clean the equipment with plain water especially with no harsh chemicals. 

Winter Maintenance 

The pond’s maintenance needs during the winter as you would expect is at its lowest. Your primary concern will be keeping the equipment from freezing and keeping an opening in the surface of the water to allow toxic carbon dioxide to escape from under the ice if you overwinter your fish (Pond must have depth greater than 18 inches for success). This can be accomplished by keeping your fountain running with the addition of a floating pond heater placed near the fountain. Once the water temperature falls below 4-6 degrees C (39-43 degrees F), stop feeding your fish since they will go into hibernation in the deeper water. 

Spring Maintenance 

Spring is an exciting time for the pond’s biological system as well as the garden. This time of year is a gradual process with distinct changes from one week to another. Activity keeps increasing from the emergence of the frogs, the increased energy needs of your fish, to the emerging plant life. Focus is placed on getting your pond ready for the rapidly changing environment. 

Start measuring ammonia and nitrites making sure to perform a partial water change if either amount is above normal. Add a dechlorinator if you are using a municipal water source and do NOT change more than 10 – 15 percent of the total water volume. 

With the increasing amount and intensity of sunlight, there may be an algae bloom resulting in free-floating algae (“green water”) and/or clumps of filamentous algae (blanket weed). The free-floating algae blooms can be kept under control with the use of an ultra-violet sterilizer. The filamentous algae will require regular removal. An alternative method for controlling string algae is to stuff a few ounces of barley straw per 30 square feet into an old stocking, sink to bottom of pond, and replace every six months. Once pond plants become established, these blooms should reduce. 

Disease is often encountered in the spring with overwintered fish from the stresses encountered from hibernation to the changing spring environment. It is often called “Spring Sickness” but is actually several problems (bacterium to excessive body slime). Keeping the manageable stresses (ammonia and nitrite levels) to a minimum after successful winter management will help the fishes immune system combat these problems. 

While the seasonal changes brings new and challenging maintenance needs for your pond’s biological system, it brings you excitement from the changes it goes through. Every year I am amazed with my pond and the challenges it brings. I hope to one day successfully raise fish in my pond but have to wait until I remove my old faithful walnut tree which is twenty yards away (juglone toxicity keeps killing my fish).

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Water Gardening

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on July 1, 2001 – 5:52 pm

Not all of us are fortunate enough to live by lakes or streams. Most of us, if we want a water feature, must create one from scratch. The charm of the water garden lies in its cool appearance and the freshness of its vegetation during the hot summer months. Hopefully, the following will encourage you to create a patio garden feature. 

Almost all water plants prefer a sunny location, four to five hours of direct sun is needed before most water lilies will bloom. Avoid overhanging tree limbs since they can cause extra maintenance with dropping leaves. Water gardens can do well with at least a filtered sun if you are not interested in plants flowering. 

Once a suitable site is found, you need to decide the size. This is really up to the individual and how much time and money we want to invest. We would suggest for the average home gardener, to start small. Ponds can take more work than you may think. We all know about the large maintenance requirements of a backyard swimming pool, just think of now trying to grow plants and fish in it. We would also suggest using one of the prefab garden liners. These come in many sizes and shapes, select one that you can at least reach the center of from at least two sides. This is similar to what we recommend with raised beds, it really simplifies the work. We would also recommend one of medium depth to begin with. 

Today you can buy pond kits that will quickly get you started. These include the liner, filters, pump, and necessary fittings and connections. Also, they should at least contain basic installation and operating instructions. Your pump should run 24 hours to help keep the water well oxygenated. This is especially important during hot summer days. The filter should be cleaned whenever water flow to the pump is noticeably restricted, at least every 2-3 weeks. 

You can expect to give your water garden a cleaning once or twice a year. Drain your pond and place your fish in a separate container of pond water, remove all plants and clean out any debris that has collected at the bottom of your pond. Refill your water garden with fresh water and return all plants. Before adding your fish, give them a chance to adjust to any change in water temperature and treat the water to remove any chlorine that may be found in tap water. Water can be added to replace evaporation as needed during the summer. Cleaning can be repeated any time during the year that your water becomes dirty with floating debris or waste. However, with proper balance and care it should not be required more than once a season. 

Water temperatures above 80 degrees can be harmful to fish and plants. During extreme heat spells it is best to partially shade your garden. Placing potted plants around the perimeter to shade the sides of the pot is also effective. 

Your water garden may go through an algae’s bloom before your plants become well established. This is harmless to fish and plants and will clear up as your plants grow and absorb the nutrients algae needs to survive. The green covering on the sides of your pots below water is normal, desirable and a sign of a healthy pond. Once in balance, your pond should remain clear enough to see near the bottom of the garden. Snails may also help keep your garden clear. 

The successful water garden is one of balance. Plants balance a pool by oxygenating and shading it. For the small garden, use containers for planting, such as plastic tubs or clay pots. This will help prevent spreading and overcrowding. Also, containers provide an easy way to remove plants in the winter months. There are four types of plants suited for the smaller gardens, shallow water, medium water, bog, and floating plants. A mix of all four provides a self-sustaining system. Fill containers with moistened soil, pack soil tightly, cover with pea gravel to keep the soil from floating up, and lower the container to the correct depth in the pond. Introduce plants to the pond during the active growing season. If you plan to add fish, wait at least 4-5 weeks after planting. 

For shallow areas 6-8 inches deep, in zones 5, we suggest the following: 

  1. Purple Iris
  2. Spiky Green Rush
  3. Miniature Spearwort
  4. Floating Heart

In medium depths, 9-18 inches, in zone 5 use:

  1. Lavender Musk
  2. Lizard’s Tail
  3. Water Pennywort
  4. Suwannee Mist Lily or Helvola White Lily

For the bog areas, include cattail, Japanese and water iris, bamboo, papyrus, and other grasslike plants. Bog plants grow naturally in mud or in up to 6 inches of water so they also need a container set just below the water line. 

Plants known as water weeds, although not appearing above the water, are important to your pond’s health. They slow the growth of algae, absorb excess nutrients that would cloud the water, and provide fish with food. Such varieties such as “elodea/anacharis” and “cabomba” are very inexpensive and can be bought by the bunch from suppliers. The plants require sandy, gravel-like soil and are hardy enough to survive the winter. 

Aquatic plants are hungry feeders and need a good supply of nutrients throughout the growing season. An application of a slow release aquatic fertilizer tablet about May 1 followed by a second application in July will be adequate. Waste from fish will provide supplemental fertilizer during the season. 

Water lilies are one of the most popular pond aquatics because they are colorful, easy to care for, and highly fragrant. In northern areas, they bloom later in the season. Unless stored, they die when frost occurs, most gardeners store them in a greenhouse pond over winter or treat them as annuals. 

Going into winter, trim back all hardy plants to about 3-6 inches. The pump should be disconnected from any spouting ornament and placed about 2-4 inches below the water surface so that the moving water prevents total freezing. Another option is to replace the pump with an inexpensive birdbath heater. If you have tropical plants you can bring them indoors as a houseplant over the winter or discard and replace them next spring. Tropical water lilies and floating plants are best replaced each year. 

Use no more than 2 -3 fish in a small garden pond unless you want to install a filtering system. We recommend common goldfish, black moors, or a variation on the common goldfish. It is best not to feed your fish in a patio garden on a regular basis so that they will scavenge on their own for natural food such as insects, and algae. If you do wish to feed them, try feeding them 2-3 times a week removing any food not consumed within 10 minutes. Stop feeding if the water begins to cloud or water temperatures drop below 50 degrees. 

As we mentioned before, our intent is to encourage you to try water gardening, give you some basic pond information, and sources of reference. We will be covering the various aspects of water gardening in depth in following issues. Most communities now have a garden center that specializes in water gardens and this is a good time of year to visit them as they have more time to spend with you. Also, many give seminars or hold classes on gardening during the Winter months. You may also want to visit The Aquatic Gardeners Association (http://www.aquatic-gardeners.org/), their purpose is to distribute information about aquatic plants and increase interest in aquatic gardening.

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Water and Gardening

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on January 1, 2001 – 5:48 pm

September is a transition month, not quite Fall but no longer Summer. Here in Zone 5 in Southwestern Michigan, the Summer flowers have seen better days while the Fall asters and toad lilies have not yet started to bloom. We always use this time to evaluate our gardens, to see what worked and what did not. September is also when we decide what changes we want to make in our gardens. If you are like us, there is always something new to try or do differently. This is the time of year my wife guards her lawn as a mother hen guards her chicks as it seems to disappear as if by magic. This leads us into this month’s topic, “New Garden Site Preparation.” 

We always start in late summer to prepare next season’s new bed sites. Since this is usually a slow time of year, it allows us to spend the time we need on this important function. Good soil is the basis on which all successful gardens are built. We view top quality soil as relatively dark in color, active in microorganisms, plant nutrients, organic matter, and a pH between 5.5 and 7.5. Since a garden is usually in place for many years, it’s vital that the soil be properly prepared before planting. 

The first step, once you have selected a site, is to have your soil tested. You need to know the strength and weaknesses of the soil you are starting with. Your local Extension Agent can help you obtain soil test forms and instructions. The test result will be your guide for all future work. 

If the results of your test suggest adding lime, now is the time to do it. Often we have heard people say that they will add lime later as a top dressing like they do on their lawns. Gardens are different from lawns, apply the lime “Now” and “Work it in Deeply.” Having the proper pH is critical for plants to absorb the nutrients they need. 

The next amendment you want to look at is organic matter. Your soil should contain at least 5% organic matter. Work in at least 3 – 4 inches of compost or well-rotted manure. Till the organic matter into a minimum depth of six inches. Surface application of organic matter does very little for new soil. By preparing beds in September, you can incorporate yard waste such as leaves, crop residues, straw, or similar items as they will decompose during the fall and winter. 

If your soil test recommends the addition of other nutrients, we like to add them at this time. This is a personal preference of ours and you could wait until actual planting if you like. This is one area where we like to use chemical fertilizers as a source of nutrients. We feel they allow us to more accurately control the application that translates into stronger plant growth. Remember, this is probably the last time you can work the soil so thoroughly. 

Just how deep you should till the soil is a hard question to answer. With our heavy clay soils we cannot work the soil deep enough. Six inches is the bare minimum with 12 – 18 inches preferred. If you are planning to plant deep-rooted plants, you may have to go even deeper. This is another reason we like to start new beds in September as we have the time to work the soil to its maximum. 

Once we have the soil thoroughly tilled, we like to work in an additional one inch of organic matter and plant a cover crop of rye grass or buckwheat. This protects the soil from wind and water erosion and adds organic matter. These cover crops called “Green Manures” are usually tilled into the soil two to three weeks before planting. 

Take your time while preparing a new bed, work everything in thoroughly and deeply, and protect your investment with a cover crop. The time you invest now preparing the soil will produce years of strong healthy plants. In future issues we will talk about extreme soil conditions such as rocky or heavy clay which take some special treatment. Again, take your time and do it right, as once the plants are in, it is very hard to make corrections.

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Water and Gardening

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on August 1, 1998 – 8:50 am

September is a transition month, not quite Fall but no longer Summer. Here in Zone 5 in Southwestern Michigan, the Summer flowers have seen better days while the Fall asters and toad lilies have not yet started to bloom. We always use this time to evaluate our gardens, to see what worked and what did not. September is also when we decide what changes we want to make in our gardens. If you are like us, there is always something new to try or do differently. This is the time of year my wife guards her lawn as a mother hen guards her chicks as it seems to disappear as if by magic. This leads us into this month’s topic, “New Garden Site Preparation.” 

We always start in late summer to prepare next season’s new bed sites. Since this is usually a slow time of year, it allows us to spend the time we need on this important function. Good soil is the basis on which all successful gardens are built. We view top quality soil as relatively dark in color, active in microorganisms, plant nutrients, organic matter, and a pH between 5.5 and 7.5. Since a garden is usually in place for many years, it’s vital that the soil be properly prepared before planting. 

The first step, once you have selected a site, is to have your soil tested. You need to know the strength and weaknesses of the soil you are starting with. Your local Extension Agent can help you obtain soil test forms and instructions. The test result will be your guide for all future work. 

If the results of your test suggest adding lime, now is the time to do it. Often we have heard people say that they will add lime later as a top dressing like they do on their lawns. Gardens are different from lawns, apply the lime “Now” and “Work it in Deeply.” Having the proper pH is critical for plants to absorb the nutrients they need. 

The next amendment you want to look at is organic matter. Your soil should contain at least 5% organic matter. Work in at least 3 – 4 inches of compost or well-rotted manure. Till the organic matter into a minimum depth of six inches. Surface application of organic matter does very little for new soil. By preparing beds in September, you can incorporate yard waste such as leaves, crop residues, straw, or similar items as they will decompose during the fall and winter. 

If your soil test recommends the addition of other nutrients, we like to add them at this time. This is a personal preference of ours and you could wait until actual planting if you like. This is one area where we like to use chemical fertilizers as a source of nutrients. We feel they allow us to more accurately control the application that translates into stronger plant growth. Remember, this is probably the last time you can work the soil so thoroughly. 

Just how deep you should till the soil is a hard question to answer. With our heavy clay soils we cannot work the soil deep enough. Six inches is the bare minimum with 12 – 18 inches preferred. If you are planning to plant deep-rooted plants, you may have to go even deeper. This is another reason we like to start new beds in September as we have the time to work the soil to its maximum. 

Once we have the soil thoroughly tilled, we like to work in an additional one inch of organic matter and plant a cover crop of rye grass or buckwheat. This protects the soil from wind and water erosion and adds organic matter. These cover crops called “Green Manures” are usually tilled into the soil two to three weeks before planting. 

Take your time while preparing a new bed, work everything in thoroughly and deeply, and protect your investment with a cover crop. The time you invest now preparing the soil will produce years of strong healthy plants. In future issues we will talk about extreme soil conditions such as rocky or heavy clay which take some special treatment. Again, take your time and do it right, as once the plants are in, it is very hard to make corrections.

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