Over the past few months, I have begun improving the soil in plots for my veggies in my parent’s orchard. I began with one large plot near the back fence and after a summer in this spot I have begun to add more plots that are in a better position, i.e. not next to gum trees! I’m also after more space, so I can grow more veggies year round.
The soil that I started with in each plot was just rubbish for growing anything in. It was just sand. It repelled any water that fell on it and I honestly considered putting in raised beds and bringing in new soil to grow my food in, but I’m too stingy for that! Over the 10years that the folks have had this property they have grown a few crops of tomatoes and pumpkins that have done ok in the soil with some extra care, but no real improvements were visible to the soil, it was just rubbish! Before they moved here the soil land was farmed the old way. Take everything out and put nothing back. The soil came to me in a pretty sorry state.
So for each plot that I have added to my garden, I have clearly had to improve my soil as quickly as possible and as cheap as possible. Firstly I had to look at what I had around me. The first and most obvious was horse poo! I have as much manure as I could ever need. Each day my tow “poo machines” make more and more poo so I’m confident that I will never run out of it! So I have collected more wheel burrow loads that I care to admit. These days I have to pick my days, and often have to get someone to push the wheel burrow, but I’m still adding horse poo to my plots. If it’s going into a plot I want to plant, I will look for older poo that the dung beetles and worms have done their thing to. If I have a few weeks before I plant it out, I don’t mind some fresher poo, I like to turn it over a few times and keep it moist so the poo breaks up. I have also noticed that some fresher stuff will have worms munching on it and I’ll gladly bring them along for the ride. Sometimes I’ll even take a bowl to put the worms in so I can add them safely after, or add them to other plots. I get a bit excited finding earth worms under horse poo.
The second thing that I have access to and love to add is coffee grinds. Seeing as the folks own a café and my produce often goes to the café, it’s only fair that I get the coffee waste to add to the soil that grows the food. Its great stuff, it is absorbent and helped my soil take in water, it composts well and is just awesome stuff. If only it made coffee flavoured tomatoes. Other benefits are that snails hate it. We have started putting it around out trees that have suffered from snails and surprise, no snails. At the moment we are only getting just over half a wheel burrow load a week, but summer it’s in abundance and I think this summer we will be able to compost some as well. I also like to encourage the staff at the café to put the tea waste into the knock box as well.
I have also been collecting all the veggie waste from the café to add to my compost heap. I’m still learning about methods of composting and I’m starting to get the hang of it. It turns out that you need a lot more brown matter than I first thought. This has been a great way of using up paper waste, such as newspapers. So far, I’ve had a little compost to add to the soil in the past and am just starting to get a worthwhile amount to put into my soil. Yippee!
The last thing that I like to add is a pea or bean straw as mulch that will eventually break down into the soil. Last summer I added a pea straw that has pretty much broken down enough to turn into the top soil. I was quite excited over summer to find out that the straw was snow pea straw. It contained seeds and they grew into hardy plants that helped improve the soil and gave me something to munch on while I watered the garden. This winter I am using a bean straw. Our local Hockey club sells large bales of broad bean straw as their major fundraiser each year and this year we took 2 bales. Again we have had broad beans shoot and again, I’m happy to let them grow. I have also discovered that when the straw was baled, Sheep poo was picked up and baled with the straw. This thrilled me because I have been struggling to get out to a friend’s farm to pick up a trailer load of sheep poo to add to my soil.
Unlike the plots that I started before summer, my new plots that I have started now have been covered with grass that has self-seeded into the ground. I do not know what the grass is and seeing as it hasn’t seeded yet I saw the opportunity to try Green Manure. I’m planning to put some of my plots to growing green manure with legumes when they are not in use. In this instance I could not see the point of wasting an opportunity for adding the grass back into my soil.
There are many different ways to add organic matter and nutrients to your soil. This is how I have gone about it for this garden. Once the plots are all established I will start to create larger compost heaps, with different types of ingredients. I aim to make the property and its gardens as self-sustainable as possible. After just 9 months the soil in the first plot is unrecognisable to the soil I started with. It’s full of big fat earth worms and producing strong healthy plants. I couldn’t be prouder!