Improving soil quality

Add compost and manure

There’s not much organic matter in my mountain soil. Every bit of organic matter is precious, and it’s the focus of my soil amending. I compost all vegetable kitchen waste and leafy leftovers from the garden (except for diseased plants). I add well-rotted horse manure from a local stable to help the composting process. When I moved into my house ten years ago, there wasn’t a shrub, tree, or cultivated plant on our one-acre site. Now it’s an oasis for local birds and wildlife. In my previously worm less soil, there are now worms a-plenty! 

Organic matter and nutrients

I add lots of organic matter (including compost and horse manure) and nutrient sources, including greensand for potassium, and rock phosphate for phosphorus.

Neutralize alkaline soil

In Southern California’s High Desert, the soil is very alkaline. To amend it, I use pine needles as mulch and compost made from tree leaves and deadheaded flowers. Neighbours who drive past my house stop and comment on the spot of sunny meadow in the desert. 

Soil test

I moved into a new home with a yard that had rocky clay soil. I raked out rocks and added compost. The most important step was testing the soil so I could add exactly what the soil needed.

Amending clay

We have clay soil and 16 flower beds. To amend the soil, we purchased an old concrete mixer at an auction. We blend top soil, humus, peat moss, perlite, sawdust, and wood shavings in it, then add the blend in the gardens. The concrete mixer saves us from mixing the blend by hand. 

Add manure

It can take years to improve the soil by adding compost. To speed things up, I buy 40-pound bags of cow manure and add them to the soil around each plant.

Amending sand

My soil is rocky and somewhat sandy. Every autumn I top the soil with straw from my chicken coop and aged manure from my llama. In spring when the soil is dry and warm, I mix the straw and manure into the soil. I till the soil as little as possible because many experts believe it’s not good for the soil. 

Cover crop

My grandfather planted winter rye to enrich his soil. In the spring he put cow manure on top of the rye and spaded both of them into the soil. My father did the same, and so do I.

Help from friends

I’m lucky to have friends. One has horses and I trade a couple bushels of apples for a pick-up load of manure. Another friend, the owner of a coffee shop, supplies coffee grounds. I get a pick-up load of topsoil from a farming friend. I gather leaves and twigs from friends in the autumn and run them through my chipper/shredder. I add a dozen wheelbarrows of compost. This all gets mixed up and sits until spring. One mix usually lasts a full season.

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