I bought a soil test kit yesterday and tested the pH in two places, the backyard (home of the future kitchen garden) and under the pine tree (home of the future blueberries, I hope). Results: 6.5-7 under the pine and a solid 7 in back. Both are much more alkaline than I thought; I'd guessed (hoped) that we had somewhat acidic soil out back and quite acid under all those pine needles. At least it's reasonably neutral, though, rather than out-and-out alkaline. Now I can add as much of those spent coffee grounds to the compost as I want.
Don asked a coworker who has horses about manure; it turns out that she's got (literally) tons of the stuff, already aged, just waiting to be hauled off. So once we get the beds roughly in place, we can cover them in the good stuff. Living in a place like this-- a small city surrounded by countryside-- certainly has its advantages.
I can't till the beds, spread manure, or plant a cover crop until the fence is in, partly because I don't want to trample them to get the fence put up, and partly because until we get the survey done we don't know how far back we can put the fence and the gardens. So:
1. Get survey done.
2. Build back fences.
3. If there's time, put black plastic down to kill the grass.
4. Remove or turn under grass.
5. Cover with manure, rototill it into the soil, use a digging fork to get the soil as loose and deep as possible.
6. Plant a cover crop of buckwheat or clover to keep it all from washing away, and to further break up and fertilize the soil.
Working backwards from our average-frost date, I should really have the cover crop planted by... a week from Saturday. So some of those things may not happen, like the black plastic, but I want to have two beds ready for spring planting; one for asparagus and one for raspberries. Unlike the vegetable garden which gets retilled and refertilized every year, these are perennials, so this is our one chance to get their dirt right. The vegetable bed we'll prepare the same way. I hadn't originally planned on renting a rototiller, but that was before I tried digging into this hard, red clay we have here. I couldn't get the shovel in at all and even Don was sweating over just digging up the soil under the compost bins. So we'll use one for these three beds, and if we need to next fall, get one again for the new beds. That might not be necessary due to the chickens, but it's hard to predict in advance.
7. Build chicken coop.
I found out about a chicken meet/swap/sale that happens the second Saturday in September where I hope to start my flock, so I really really need to get both the coop and the fence built by then. Speaking of which, Alice and I were walking down an alley near our house and found... chickens! in a backyard. Apparently we're not the only people in our neighborhood doing this! It makes me feel slightly less nuts knowing that there are others.