gardening / homesteading

homestead: soil building

I’ve been in a state of soil building the moment I stepped onto the raw mountain land that I considered purchasing.

Land watching. I paid attention to where the thimbleberries grew in a grove. That would be my garden. There was enough sunlight to grow something on this rocky mountain.

Sunlight catching. After we purchased it, I spent hours sitting on the land, watching the sunlight pass over different aspects of our three acres. I determined where different rooms would be located based on sunlight.

Garden bed building. The same day we took possession of our newly built home was the same day I began building perennial gardens. The home builders hadn’t yet handed over the keys, yet I was dragging rocks to the front cottage gardens — one of the builders asked WHAT I was doing. Like I kid in a sandbox, I was on a mission to make the front yard look pretty.

Soil searching. When folks asked where I found all that rock for my raised perennial beds and vegetable gardens, I giggle. “Where did I get the soil?” is the better question.

We bought a bed of granite. These mountains also gave us towering conifers.

We blasted for the driveway, blasted for the house, blasted for the garden. And then we had to find soil.

Where was that garden soil factory found in the mountains?

It doesn’t exist.

Compost everything. Everything that can be composted, must be composted. Everything that can be composted is nutritive. Everything nutritive must be added to the garden soil. Garden plants eat from the garden soil.

Layers of my soil. The very basic beginnings of my garden: topsoil. A solid dump of topsoil was where I began. But topsoil has very little nutritive value.

Soil test the garden. Just because that’s what a good gardener does. No surprise, I was lacking nitrogen. Shock, no shock. But I was also missing a whole bunch of minerals. I knew I was starting from scratch, and the soil test supported that notion, so I threw everything into the compost I could.

Build and add compost. So I must build compost. This is a long term, ongoing, project. Grow your own compost. Want an abundant garden? Build abundant soil. Here’s a video for composting for beginners.

Eggshells & coffee grounds. There is controversy whether eggshells and coffee grounds have much benefit to the garden soil. Their effectiveness make take effect many months or years later. But waste not, want not, I throw it all in.

Composting newspaper shreds. Gotta have brown in the compost. Is it safe to compost paper?

Composting leaf shreds. Gather em up for the benefit of your garden, not just aesthetics. Where I live, there aren’t a lot of deciduous trees. These are the mountains, so we have coniferous abundance. But you can still find a few maple and ash varieties. Leaf shreds provide the brown in compost.

Add the minerals. This is expensive, yet worth it. I added azomite, fish meal, bonemeal and gypsum. Weekly, I continue to fertilize with fish fertilizer.

Horse or cow manure. I have access to horse stables so horse manure was my go-to. Having lived on the prairies, cows roaming and happily fertilizing the soil, I saw how gardens thrived in this environment. So horse manure? I’m in. The reason people don’t prefer it? Lots of weeds. Since I was building a garden from no soil, I was in for anything. Besides, weeds tell me something is growing in that soil.

Chicken manure. Nothing has broken down my compost quicker than chicken manure. I didn’t do a scientific study, but I’m certain the compost broke down more quickly because of this wonder drug. I don’t know if you can care for a chicken or two where you live, but they are too easy and provide far too much benefit NOT to compost their ‘excess’.

Bark Mulch. There are a lot of trees where I live so bark mulch is a great way to build garden beds. A 2-3″ layer is all you need to get started. It conserves soil moisture and breaks down over time.

Grow nitrogen-rich garden plants. Some plants are nitrogen rich and give back to the soil themselves. Or plant cover crops in fall. Chop and drop comphrey.

What to build when. Of course, all these mulches may or may not be found at the same time. So keep adding to the beds when you have an soil ingredient.

Grow, grow, grow. I am on my fourth year vegetable garden in this home. The peas, lettuce and berries are coming in abundantly now, but I suspect I won’t see garden abundance like I did when I planted in a century old cow fertile plot. Give me a few years. But I’ll keep adding to my soil in spring and fall then I’ll watch my garden grow.

How your garden soil grows over time. 5 Tips for Building Garden Soil

“I’m at a loss of a topic for my next poem?

Should it be about the value of loam?

It is a soil with equal parts of sand, silt and clay.

It’s a fertile mixture, of that I can say.

The soil in a garden is an important factor.

sometimes it might need the help of a tractor?

Check the ph and aerate, at least once a year.

Or your flowers may not be lush, of that I fear.

Compost is always a most valuable addition.

A substitute for feritlizer, it keeps the earth in good condition.

It can turn clay into workable soil;

but, it will take time, and a good bit of toil.

The more you know and the more you learn,

The better the chances, a great garden you’ll earn.

the real key to a great garden is the amount of toil

That you put into conditioning your garden’s soil.

The microbes and worms are really necessary,

But you could surely use the help of a garden fairy.

luci is involved in all that you do;

Mother nature needs to smile on you too.”

by J.B. Le Buert

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