Today I am launching a series of posts called Garden Geek’s Geeky Garden Basics (As I’ve Discovered Them to be Thus Far). This series aims to discuss a few of the basics of gardening from a beginner’s perspective. Consider it to be peer-to-peer learning for beginners. If you have a differing opinion on how something should be done, or expert knowledge to add, I welcome comments and gentle corrections.
Day One: Love Thy Soil
If you love your plants then you need to learn to love your soil. Your soil is an amazing micro-ecosystem teeming with life. It is incredibly complex and delicate.
Amend Thy Soil
If you love your soil you will always seek to improve it. I’m still learning how to garden, so I am experimenting with different methods of improving my soil. I’ve experimented with double digging (a lot of work), slightly raised beds, and simple tilling and mulching methods. I am becoming more interested in the no-till method of improving soil as it appears to be better for our land in the long run.
My soil has a slight clay consistency. Adding organic matter helps to make my soil easier to work with. It also makes it a much more welcoming environment for my plants. As for my soils pH and nutrient balance, I have home-tested it, but was not confident with the results. I tried to save money on a cheaper testing kit and the results were ambiguous, to say the least. I recommend spending the extra money on a good quality testing kit, or better still sending a sample to a lab. As a renter I’ve opted not to go the lab-testing route, as my husband and I do not plan on being here for more than a few years. Thus I generally seek to amend my soil according to the needs of the plants I’m dealing with. When in doubt, I just add a layer of compost- which leads me to the next point.
Love thy Compost
Whatever your soil tests results are, soil can always use more organic matter in the form of compost. So that is what I have been focusing on adding to my garden.
I buy compost and avidly make it myself. See here for a post about the compost debate, which includes a great TedTalk.
At the moment my compost methods include a rotating bin for food scraps and shredded newspaper. I also have a pile of compost behind my bin that is nearly ready to use in the garden (I have actually been sneaking some into my soil already). That pile you see in the picture below was once over 3 cubic feet in size and has been reduced due to a friendly donation of a huge amount of grass clippings. The pile heated up to about 160º F- which is nearly a composter’s heaven.
Love thy Earthworms
When I first took a shovel to the soil, and uncovered some earth in my backyard, I was horrified. Beneath the soil was a teeming layer of red worms, pill bugs and a billion unknown and unseen creepy crawlies. I think I may have even squealed! I said a quick prayer: “God, please help me to no longer be frightened of worms”. Luckily, He has answered my prayers- worms are awesome!
The amazing thing is those worms, and those other creepy crawlies, are building my soil for me. They are tilling, and amending and fertilizing, while all I have to do is sit back and watch. Of course, I would have to wait a longtime if I only relied on bugs to amend my soil. But that is not the point. The point is this: learn to love your soil and learn to love the bugs in it- they are doing good for your soil!
To learn more about earthworms see this informative article.
Keep Thy Soil Organic
If you love your soil, you’ll be more likely to think twice before you add any chemicals to it. When you do make additions to your soil try to choose organic. It is ultimately up to you to decide how dedicated you want to be with organic practices in your garden. I think organic gardening is wonderful and well worth it. The imperfections, the challenges and the weeding enrich my garden experience (for the most part).
Build your soil. Prepare your soil. Have it tested. Amend your soil. Love your soil. Compost, compost, compost! Think of your soil as a living, breathing microscopic world!
And if I haven’t convinced you yet, then here’s a little video about how amazing soil is: