Soil

“When the soil disappears,
the soul disappears.”
~Ymber Delecto

Soil is the source of everything.  Soil, earth, dirt, planet earth, however we choose to refer to it, the earth and soil are sacred. If we kill the soil, we destroy the planet and ourselves.  If we protect and nurture the soil with proper nutrients, no chemicals, water and clean air, then the planet will flourish and heal itself and us.

When I was first starting out I knew very little about growing food. I just started planting seeds and vegetable starts and hoped for the best. The first year produced a healthy little crop because the previous owner knew what he was doing and he was diligent about fertilizing with manure, compost, leaves, grass and vegetable food. The next year I took my garden for granted.  I added a little compost, sprinkled a little vegetable food into my soil, and watered only a couple times a week during the hot summer.  That crop, and the crops in the following years continued to be ho, hum because I continued to scrimp on soil amendments and didn’t understand how important it was to keep the soil moist during the warm season.

A few years ago I started to read more and went on some of the Eugene garden tours.  I learned a lot about what I should and shouldn’t be doing, and that year I really made the effort to enrich my soil and water enough during the summer.  With the help of a friend who was an invaluable resource of information for me, I got a flourishing garden that year, and I expect to continue getting great veggies and beautiful flowers from now on.  The following amendments, along with almost daily watering during the summer months, are what I apply to my vegetable beds to get healthy and abundant vegetables and berries.  Although it takes time and strength to gather these amendments for your soil, it doesn’t cost a lot :

1.        Leaves: if you don’t have enough of your own, gather them from the neighborhood in the fall from people who leave them out in bags.  Spread them out to dry and then run over them with your lawnmower if you feel the leaves need cut up. Hopefully you have a lawnmower bag for easy disposal.  Check the bags first for debris that you may not want in your garden.  Make sure you don’t use any leaves from Black Walnut trees. Throw these leaves over your veggie beds and flower beds in the late fall and early winter after you’ve put your beds to rest. Don’t mix the leaves into the soil.  Just lay them on top. They will help keep the nutrients in, prevent the rain from leaching out the soil, make the worms happy, and best of all they suppress weeds.  In areas where you really need to keep the weeds down, throw on whole leaves.  Be aware, however, that if the layer is too thick it may prevent some of your spring flowers from shooting up.  The leaves provide additional mulch in the garden beds in the hot summer, although by the end of the summer they are usually decomposed.

2.        Coffee grounds:  Almost all the coffee huts put their coffee grounds outside.  They are happy to have people come and get them.  You will find some items in there like straws and sugar packets.  Just remove them.  Coffee filters are okay to leave.  They will decompose, but I usually take out some of them. I add a lot of coffee grounds to my veggie beds and mix it into the soil. Plants love the nitrogen they get from the grounds.

3.        Chicken, steer and/or rabbit manure:  Buy chicken or steer compost in the bags or have them load up your pickup at your local supplier or dairy farm.  I go to Lane Forest for most of my compost. Some dairy farmers have too much trash mixed in with their manures. If you can trust the manure you get from a farmer then by all means get some, but make sure and add it to you soil at the end of the growing season if it is really fresh.  Over time, especially if you keep adding your own compost and chicken or rabbit manure, you won’t need to go outside your property looking for manure.

4.        Grass Clippings: Grass clippings are a must!  But not, of course,  if you’ve used any chemicals in your grass.  When I piled on the grass clippings in the spring and mixed them into the soil the earth worms multiplied.  And you know when you get worms you get poop containing nutritious microbes that your plants will love! Don’t leave a thick layer of grass on top of your soil.  Just scatter a little and mix it in.

5.       Compost from your garden containing your decomposed  kitchen scraps and previous years vegetation.  I take compost from my compost heap in the spring and add that to areas where I think more nutrients are needed.  One year I poured a whole wheel barrel  full of decomposed compost filled with worms onto my strawberry bed and that really made a difference.

6.       In addition to manure, Nature’s Best & Blue Mint Compost from Lane Forest is what I like to mix into my beds every other year or so because I just don’t feel that I can get enough of my own compost from my own yard and kitchen scraps.  I’m not sure how many chemicals are in those mixes, however, so I need to check on that.

7.       A friend of mine plants a cover crop of Australian Clover in his beds, but that never works for me because I can’t get my veggie plots cleared off soon enough in the fall.  I hope to try it one of these years. With all my chicken manure and composted materials, I think I get enough nitrogen and other micro nutrients in my soil, and the worms in my soil seem to confirm that.

Some people will still need other micro nutrients and organic fertilizers to help boost their garden when the soil is inadequate, but if you simply start with the above basics, and continually add compost, manures and other amendments to your beds each spring, mulch with straw in the summer, and cover everything with leaves in the fall, then you will probably not need to add much additional amendments to your soil.  It never hurts to try different things however.  And testing your soil for its PH  and other nutrient levels is advisable if you still aren’t getting the crops you expect.  And NEVER scrimp on water.  If you don’t keep your crops watered and the soil moist, all your other efforts will be wasted.

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