Preparing the vegetable garden for spring planting begins the fall before. Fall preparation allows you to plant cool-season vegetables, such as peas, as soon as the soil is workable in early spring. Adding soil amendments just prior to winter gives the amendments time to break down and add to the soil quality prior to planting. For later crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, fall preparation saves time on spring garden chores, but much of the preparation can be done just prior to summer planting if preferred.
Remove old plant material, stakes and twine from the garden bed. Dispose of or compost these materials. This gets rid of any materials that insects or disease organisms would over-winter in.
Lay a 3-inch layer of compost over the garden bed. Apply agricultural lime to the beds every two to three years, at the rate of 4 lbs. per 100 square feet for sandy soils, 6 lbs. for loam and 8 lbs. for clay. Till the compost and lime into the top 6 inches of the bed.
Lay a 3-inch layer of straw mulch over the garden bed after amending the soil. Mulching prevents weed growth over winter. Remove the mulch or till it into the soil prior to planting in spring.
Fertilize the vegetable garden one to two weeks before planting the following spring. Apply a general purpose, slow-release fertilizer to the bed at the rate recommended on the fertilizer package.
Place an additional 1-inch layer of compost on top of the soil just prior to or just after planting. The compost acts as a mulch and also leaches nutrients into the soil throughout the gardening season.