Compost Is Key

Vegetables are heavy nutrient feeders. They need loose, well-aerated soil with good drainage, so the bed will require additional compost on top of the newspaper layer. Mixing in mushroom compost works best. Typically, it already includes lime, which could help solve any existing acidity issues. It also has a finer texture because it’s not solely manure. Additional ingredients, such as decomposed straw, give it a loose feel that allows root crops like carrots, turnips and beets to develop properly.

Mushroom compost is readily available in the spring, but some supply stores will carry it out of season. Aged steer, horse or chicken manure is a fine alternative and is available year-round a most stores. Homemade kitchen or leaf compost also works well, although few households actually produce enough to support their gardens. But save the fibrous, woody stuff like ground bark or wood chips for trees and shrubs, not your vegetable bed. High in lignin, these materials soak up nitrogen as they decompose, leaving your vegetables hungry. Too much nitrogen isn’t desirable, either: It encourages lush growth, which can make plants susceptible to aphids.

Raised beds will help your vegetables thrive, warming the soil earlier in spring and vastly improving its drainage.

You can find good compost at Grimm’s Fuel Company (grimmsfuel.com) and Mt. Scott Fuel Co. (mtscottfuel.com). They both carry mushroom compost all year. Grimm’s sells it in bulk for $36 per yard; Mt. Scott sells it in bulk as well for $29 per yard, or you can bag it yourself for $3.50 per two-cubic-foot bag.

Once you’ve made your compost selection, spread a one- to two-foot layer on top of your prepared bed and let nature take its course. Rain, freezes and the work of worms and microbes will help the material break down. Given a couple of months to mellow, age and settle, the compost should be suitable for planting in spring. Then, seeds can be sown in the top layer of compost above the decomposing newspaper.

By planning ahead for the season and endeavoring to create nutrient-rich soil, you can produce vegetables worthy of the finest plate in town.