homestead

fresh from the 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

In order to do that, I did a little land watching. I paid attention to where the thimbleberries grew in a grove. There was enough sunlight to grow something on this rocky mountain. That space would be my garden.

I did a little 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. I wanted early morning sun through my bedroom windows. I knew which child needed more sunshine in the early part of the day and which would appreciate in the afternoon: their bedrooms placed accordingly.

Then I did a little garden bed building.

The day we took possession of our newly built home was the 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.

I did a little soil searching.

When folks asked where I found all that rock to outline my raised perennial beds and vegetable gardens, I giggled. There was ONLY rock on our property. “Where did I get the soil?” is the question.

One could say we bought a parcel of land, or one could say 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 in the mountains? It doesn’t exist.

Want an abundant garden? Build abundant soil.

How to Build Soil:

Compost everything.

Everything that can be composted, must be composted because everything that can be composted is nutritive. Everything nutritive that is added to the garden will feed the plants in the garden (everything wants to eat, even garden soil).

Layers of my soil.

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

Soil test the garden.

One could say I was being premature testing the topsoil, but I wanted to be certain what I was working with, so I soil tested the garden with a gardening store soil test. No surprise: I was lacking nitrogen. I was also missing a whole bunch of minerals. I knew I was starting from scratch, and the soil test supported my notion, so I built myself a compost pile.

Build and add compost.

I threw anything compostable into that compost pile. This is a long term, ongoing, project. Grow your own compost. Here’s a video for composting for beginners.

Add 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.

Compost newspaper shreds.

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

Compost 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 can be expensive, yet worth it. I added azomite, fish meal, bonemeal and gypsum. Weekly, I continue to fertilize with fish fertilizer. I call it “Fertilize Friday”.

Add horse or cow manure.

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

Add chicken manure.

Nothing has benefited my compost more than chicken manure. I didn’t do a scientific study, but I’m certain my 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 super easy to care for and provide more than just eggs.

Layer 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. Bu really it is just icing on the cake (it protects the cake: aka soil), but it is not actually the cake.

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. Everyone should have comphrey in their homesteads. This stuff will grow anywhere, it can be chopped and dropped into your garden beds or compost piles and adds rick nitrogenic nutrients to anything it touches.

What to add when.

Of course, all these additions may or may not be found at the same time, so keep adding any of them to the beds when you have them. (But before the garden is planted, or after the garden is finished).

Grow, grow, grow.

I am on my sixth vegetable garden in this home. Every year, everything grows more amply. (No miracle grow required). I’ll keep adding to my soil in spring and fall watch my garden grow.

A Poem: 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 fertilizer, 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.
luck is involved in all that you do;
Mother nature needs to smile on you too."
by J.B. Le Buert

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