Sunday, June 3, 2012

Soil Building

The most important part of organic gardening has got to be having good, healthy soil.  If your soil is healthy, then your plants are healthy.  Good soil provides food, protects against disease and maintains good water supply.  You don't need fertilizers, bug poison or tons of water to maintain your garden if you start off by building up your soil to be as healthy as it can be.
I am just beginning to really understand the importance of the soil, so I am a little behind this year.  Ideally the soil would be in great shape before I plant, but I'm working the soil up as I go instead.  My garden is currently clay, which is really no good for a garden.  What I am doing this year to begin to fix this is to add as much organic matter to the soil as possible.  I mentioned mulch and cover crops previously, but I'll explain better now.
At the end of the summer last year, I planted hairy vetch and winter rye.  I think I must have waited too long to plant them because they didn't really do much growing until this spring.  The hope with these crops was that they would grow during the fall and then in spring I could cut them down and use them for organic matter in the garden.  They also prevent erosion during the non-growing season.  With my garden on the side of a hill, I need this help too.  The hairy vetch is also a legume which fixes nitrogen in the soil for the plants to use during the growing season.  Well since my soil is so bad, they only grew in places where the soil was so-so and there a lot of bald spots.  When I went to cut them all down I discovered that hairy vetch has tendrils like a vine and was attached to everything.  I missed a bunch when I was cutting so the vines grabbed on to my pea plants and it was a mess to separate.  I'll likely just do winter rye this year.

Once I cut down all the cover crops, I spread newspaper, leaves, manure and compost throughout the garden beds as mulch.  In the town I live in, our dump composts all the fall leaves and brush and puts them in a big pile for dump pass holders to take for free.  We have used 3 truckloads so far this year.  This may not be the best option because I don't really know everything that is going into the compost.  I don't know what chemical fertilizers or pesticides people have used on their lawn waste before they drop it off at the dump.  I do compost my own yard waste and the waste from my neighbors, but like I said before, I'm a little behind right now so I take what I can get.

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