As you may have guessed, preparing your soil is one of the most essential things that needs to be done before you begin putting seeds in the ground.

After the winter season, the soil will require quite a bit of attention. Be sure to test the soil to ensure it is ready for planting, however, because working it too early in the season will create uneven, compacted clumps. The best way to know if the ground is ready to be tilled is to grab a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball. It the ball easily falls apart, it is ready to be worked. If there is standing water, or the ground is still frozen, wait until conditions improve.

Once the soil is ready, you will also need to test its makeup. The purpose of this is to identify the pH balance and nutrients that you already have, as well as the ones that you need. A great resource for checking soil is the Cooperative Extension System Office.

If you are planting in beds from last year, hopefully you did a lot of the cleanup before winter set in. It is likely, however, that you will still have to clear some debris, old sod, or even weeds. It is important to get a clear work space before planting, and also to stifle any weeds that have begun to take root.

While you're down there weeding, now is also a good time to look for pests and insects that could cause harm to your seedlings. Some common bugs to watch for are slugs, maggots, and cutworms, depending on your climate. Identifying and treating an insect infestation before planting will give your plants the best chance to reach harvest.

When all the "bad" is removed from your beds, you can begin to prepare the soil. Depending on the results you got from testing, there are two ways to go about this.

The first is for in-ground planting, and requires intensive digging and turning of the earth. You want to get at least 12 inches deep when turning the soil to evenly distribute the nutrients. While you are turning the soil, work in "amendments" such as compost, seaweed, leaves, animal manure, and other things that will improve your dirt contents. Once all these ingredients have been mixed together, rake the soil until it is even.

If, after your testing, you found that your soil is poor for planting, you may want to employ the second option, which is planting in raised beds. Import your own soil and mix in the amendments of your choosing, as previously described. Instead of raking even, neatly mound the soil into formed beds.

With the soil prepared, it is now time to plant you seeds according to the plan you have already created. Be sure to leave enough room for each plant so that they can reach full potential, and, very soon, you will begin to see your garden take shape.