Well, the few spates of good weather we've had between rain and wind have me out in the garden. It's wonderful to see my peas, spinach and cilantro growing every day, and to think of the yummy supper they will give me. It also makes me aware of just how much work this 'new' soil of ours, here in Harrison Mills, needs.
The absolute best way to have a great garden, whether ornamental or edible, is to have a healthy soil. The long term success of any garden depends on good soil, ie a living soil.
It's very tempting to use quick fix chemical fertilizers on our plants to help them flourish, but they can do more damage than good. It's kind of like the whole food thing for humans. You are what you eat. We all struggle with that, but it's the same with your soil. Building healthy soil is not a quick fix – it takes time and work.
Know your soil – how it looks, feels and smells, and how healthy your plants look. Good soil holds moisture well, and is rich and crumbly. If you squeeze it tightly in your hand it will hold together, and then crumble when you let it go.
It's good to know the pH of your soil, and this can easily be done with a small testkit ( available at Arts Nursery, of course). The test kit may also measure the three main soil nutrients too – nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.
Once you know the needs of your soil, you will know which organic fertilizers and amendments you need. These include:
If your soil is too acidic, use dolomite lime. Our soil tends to be acidic here because of all the rain we get, so your lime loving plants may need some lime every year. Your grass surely does!
Blood meal and fish meal are great sources of nitrogen, and the effects last from 4 – 8 months. However be careful not to overuse, as most insects are attracted to nitrogen rich plants. It promotes lots of green growth, but not flowers, seeds etc. Too much nitrogen in your veg plot will make your carrots really hairy!
Bone meal and rock phosphate are good sources of phosphorous and the effects last for a year.
They stimulate good root growth and flowers, and that's why bulbs like them so much. They do not move much in the soil, so thats why it's important to use them at planting time.
Kelp meal, liquid seaweed and wood ashes all provide potassium, and will last from 6 – 12 months. They contribute to general plant health and help with disease resistance. I spread wood ashes around my lilac bush every year and it loves it!!!!!
Well Rotted Manure
Chicken, steer and mushroom manure are all readily available. It's very satisfying to see your garden covered with a healthy layer of manure. Just make sure it is weed free, and keep it away from the stems and trunks of shrubs and trees.
Do not spread mushroom manure on any acid loving plants. You can add manure to your soil in spring or fall. I like late fall or very early spring, so it has time to break down a bit.
This amendment helps retain moisture in your soil, and is especially good for acid loving plants. It has no nutritional value, but is great for soil structure. Make sure it is moist before you add it to your soil. You could also consider the Peat Moss alternatives like Beats Peat and Coconut Coir.
This is the premium soil additive. It must be well rotted, which means it is dark, crumbly and not smelly. It is good for any type of soil, adds nutrients, and is beneficial to soil structure, whether you have clay or sand.
I topdress my garden with 1 -2” of compost every spring. Just think of the great core workout you will get by shovelling and wheelbarrowing!
More Soil Tips
As well as adding good stuff to your soil, there are a couple of other things to do for soil health:
Avoid tilling or disturbing your soil as much as possible. There are many wonderful microscopic organisms and fungi in the top 2” of the soil, which help greatly with plant health. Soil disturbance disrupts these little guys and their activities.
An alternative to hoeing weeds or tilling is to use organic mulches. A good mulch suppresses weeds, retains soil moisture and protects plants and soil against extreme temperatures. Worms and all those little microscopic guys gradually break down the mulch and incorporate it into your soil. You can also build permanent pathways into your garden, to help avoid soil compaction where your plants are.
Plant cover crops in the fall. Just keep this in mind for now. It's one of the best ways to feed your soil, and improve soil structure all at once. Legume cover crops are especially valuable as they grow very deep roots which help 'mine' the mineral resources deep in your soil, and they add lots of nitrogen. I add a layer of chopped up stinging nettles to my compost every year, just because they are so deep rooted, and do those very things.
Purchase a good soil to begin with. There are a lot of soil suppliers on the market, including Arts Nursery. The old adage of 'you get what you pay for', couldn't be more true. There is a reason some suppliers sell a yard of soil super cheap. Don't say you weren't warned!
P.S. Please, please stay away from cheap soils made with green waste - if they aren't composted over a long time (i.e. years) - you will get nothing but weeds!
Well, that's the quick and dirty on soil health. As I said, it takes time and patience, but you will be amply rewarded by a great garden! I know I will also be slimmer, fitter and healthier - if I can give up dark chocolate that is!
I wonder if it is possible to grow a cacao tree in my greenhouse?
Editors Note: Check out the Arts Nursery bulk top soil selection for additional information. And yes, we deliver!