Monday, November 7, 2011

Garden Update: Tending to the Soil

My garden kind of sucked this year.

Well, that's not entirely true. We did at least grow enough vegetables to keep us well fed through the summer, and there is a bit in the freezer, but certainly not what I was hoping for, not as much as what I grew last year.

There are several reasons for this:

*The chickens. Backyard chickens are lovely, particularly when they have a fenced yard that keeps them out of the garden. I had this sweet little dream that the chickens would go along, picking the nasty bugs out of the garden, fluffing the soil a bit and fertilizing as they went. What I discovered was that chickens - even just four of them - are destructive little beasts. They ate my kale to the ground, picked tomato plants clean of any leaves, and slept on the carrot greens, laying them down flat. Of course, they may have been eating bugs, too, but I couldn't tell. So we made them a nice yard to live in, and let them out frequently when there is someone out to torment supervise them.

*My laziness. The best way to grow a great garden is to work hard in it. Somewhere around July, when the temperatures got up over 100 degrees, I lost the motivation to spend an hour each night in my garden. The weeds suffocated some of my plants, I didn't bother fertilizing anything, and it showed in my rather meager harvest. I also lacked any motivation to plant seeds in August for a fall crop, meaning what was planted in spring was all we had.

*Lack of planning. When one is working with very limited space, one must plan to make the most of every bit of space. I seriously failed on this one, just sort of planting things where I felt like it. There were huge chunks of wasted space, minimizing the amount my garden could even produce, and making it look like a hodgepodge of plants, instead of neat and tidy the way I like it.

*The soil. This is the big one. Last year's garden was amazing, producing huge vegetables at a rate we could barely keep up with. It was lush and full and just incredible. I imagine those beautiful plants sucked every bit of life out of the soil, leaving it with pretty much nothing to offer this year. A seed can only do so much with soil that is void of any nutrients. Beets that took two months to grow last year barely produced a bulb after four months this year, despite the same exact watering system. I did toss out a couple of bags of store-bought organic mushroom compost early in the spring, but it wasn't much, and certainly not enough to replenish all that was taken from it the year before.

So we addressed that issue yesterday. I spread a barrel of homemade compost in the worst areas first - composted kitchen scraps and chicken manure, good ol' "black gold" filled with the best nutrients of all kinds. The problem with homemade compost is that you never have enough to really make much of a difference. So we also hauled home a truck-bed load of horse manure. (This is one of the benefits of having a mother who keeps horses. She's always got plenty of poop on hand, and is always willing to share.)

I hauled the manure into the garden with a wheelbarrow and spread it around while my sweet, hardworking husband tilled it all in thoroughly.

And of course, the chickens were expected to do their part.

Only they kept getting distracted by the swiss chard in the cold frame. Man, that stuff sure pleases chickens.

So twelve wheelbarrows of horse manure, a barrel of homemade compost, and a bit of sand leftover from my beet storing experiment last year has been dug into the garden. The soil out there is dark and fluffy, a far cry from the compacted clay we started out with. Hopefully this TLC will give us the best garden we've ever had come spring - if my laziness doesn't get in the way of my success!

1 comment:

Wendy said...

that soil looks fantastic!