So, I’m terrible at doing soil tests. Every year, I think to myself, “I should get the soil tested…”
And then promptly forget about it until it’s wayyyy too late and I suddenly have about 300 starts to put in the ground and resolve to do it on time next year.
Because of my terrible procrastination problem, I’ve come up with a soil amendment plan that seems to work? I say seems, because since I’m also a procrastinator at compiling data — despite constant compulsive note taking — I just assume that it’s probably doing fine. Stuff’s growing, right?
So, here’s my recipe for Maybe OK Garden Soil (TM).
I tend to pretty much throw whatever organic matter I can get my hands on the ground. Old hay. Leaf litter. Coffee grounds (you can get them from your local coffee shop). Grass clippings. (This document has some information about the availability of specific nutrients in different types of organic matter).
Sometimes I’ll get ambitious and roam fancy neighborhoods where people rake their leaves in the Fall and pick up bags of leaves from the curb and pile them up in the backyard. I tell my wife that I’m actually letting them decompose, but in reality, I’m usually too lazy to spread the leaves (my initial plan is usually to use the leaves as mulch) and so I wind up letting the compost and using them as soil amendments after forgetting about them for about 3 months. And of course, I use compost from my poorly maintained compost pile.
Y’all. I’m starting to think I suck at gardening.
My obscenely large mulch pile.
So, earlier this year, I made a deal with the local utility company that I’d take their wood chips produced from when they trimmed trees around power lines. The plan was (is?) to take all that material and mulch the entire front yard, turn it into a garden space (killing my grass in the process!) and then spreading more around the back yard preventing grass and weeds.
As the mulch breaks down, I will cultivate it into the soil, thereby amending even further. Now, as a result of my ambition, I have a 60 feet long pile of mulch about 5 feet high in my driveway. My neighbors, I’m sure, are impressed.
Protip: If you have a spouse who’s not as into gardening as you are, get yourself a 60 feet long pile of mulch in your driveway. I promise said spouse will instantly be super interested in what your garden plans are for the year and when you’re going to use all that mulch. They’ll talk about it nearly every day, thus bringing you closer together as a couple. You’re welcome!
Poop is one of my favorite things to put into the soil. I get as much rabbit and goat poop as I can and just work it right in. If I have chickens — which I don’t right now — I usually put their run over where I want the garden to be. They do a great job of decimating all the weeds in the run and their droppings are filled with all sorts of happy nutrients.
If you do this, be aware, chicken poop is considered “hot” which means it needs to age before planting in it, as the droppings contain high amounts of nitrogen which can burn plants and kill them (I learned the hard way). I usually try to move the run every few months, letting the material age and “cool” down.
Rabbit and Goat poop can be placed directly into your soil fresh from the animals bum. I want to build a composting toilet, but the family is still a bit squeamish about me growing veggies with human poop (but it would give us something to do with all those wood chips!).
Wood Ash has phosphates and potassium, which are, of course, essential nutrients. It’s important to use hardwood ash, for some reason I’m not entirely aware of? I’m going to search now and figure it out. I’ve always been told not to use ashes from evergreens, but never bothered to wonder why.
Well … Evidently it’s OK to use evergreen ash? Huh. Now we know. According to this article, the only issue is evergreen ash contains less potassium.
OK then. I tend to, again, this isn’t laziness, pile up a bunch of wood ash during the winter in the backyard and eventually spread it on the garden. I do this to foster a better relationship with my spouse, as like the mulch, gives her a reason to talk about my hobbies with her.
Method of dispersal
Again, I have heady plans for my garden every December. And of course, I ignore them immediately in January when I just get distracted or bored or lazy. So then, I have my 300 or so plant starts that by the end of February I put in the ground in a frenzy of planting, swearing to never procrastinate again.
Most of the time, these are assorted greens, and as such, tend to grow rather quickly. Usually, I do this without amending the soil. Then immediately after the starts have matured and been harvested, I amend my soil. Not because it’s better, but because I figure I have to get it in sometime and my poor planning usually means I’ll have to do it in between plantings.
Also, there’s a pretty interesting discussion about whether the material should be tilled into the soil or just top dressed. I tend to fall on the just drop it on top of the ground side of the argument. I tell people it’s because of the debate and the uptake possibilities of the nutrients, but really I’m just in a hurry at this point.
After getting my amendments on the ground, I cover everything with a layer of mulch thus hiding my sin of laziness and poor planning (mulch covers all gardening sins). And that’s it.
I mean, it seems to work? Mostly? If I ever get around to getting my notes compiled, I’ll let you know.