The temperatures are predicted to hit 70 degrees today for the first time this spring and overnight freezes are becoming the exception rather than rule. I spent Easter weekend getting the beds ready for spring planting in the coming weeks. It was a relief to finally get my hands dirty after a long, cold winter!
Last year we installed a few new beds, so the first order of business was a soil test. The extension office provides an excellent detailed test, but I used the cheap test kit from the garden center since I am pretty confident on my soil quality. Testing provides important information, including the acidity of the soil and any nutrient deficiencies. I don't test as often as I should, but I do try to test all new beds and older beds if they aren't producing well.
My beds were looking pretty good, soil quality-wise. I tilled in a couple inches of compost to improve soil texture and drainage. I love compost and consider it a garden cure-all. I make my own, but you can also buy bags of compost for veggie and flower beds.
Don't walk on the beds after you prepare the soil. This only compacts them and makes it more difficult for plant roots and water to penetrate deeply. Once I was done prepping, I covered the beds with a layer of black plastic. You can leave plastic in place after planting to act as a mulch, but I prefer to remove it and use straw mulch later. The plastic warms the soil in late spring, ensuring it reaches the optimum temperature for those summer vegetables.