SEEDS AND SHIT!
A match made in heaven.
If you’re new to gardening, the thought of growing your food in… well.. feces, is probably a little hard to handle. Your plants won’t think so, though. Composted manure is like an all expenses paid trip to a gourmet buffet. – Sidenote – Do you think there is such a thing as a gourmet buffet? I can’t really see women dripping in diamonds standing in line at an all you can eat Foie Gras table, but I digress.
Soil. Animal shit. Other kinds of shit. Dead plants. Blood. Powdered bone. Lime. Pee. Sounds like all the makings for a horror movie,
or one seriously fucked up porno. These are all what are called soil amendments. Soil isn’t perfect, damn near everyone has soil that needs to be adjusted in some way or another, and if you don’t? I loathe you. We’ve been working on double digging our new vegetable patch out back for 2 weeks now, and sweet baby jesus… I’m trying not to let it break me, but it’s getting close. We should have already had certain things planted at this point, but our soil is so terrible, you can’t put your shovel in the ground without hitting at least 3 – 5 rocks. Every time. Example: We dug 4 rows, approximately 15 feet long , 1 foot wide, 1-2 feet deep, and we filled a wheelbarrow full of rocks the size of your fist or larger.. and that was just the big stuff. It’s enough to make any gardener want to cry. I’m out back singing songs like I’m working on a chain gang. Picture it.
Needless to say, the soil needs help. We’re going to have to do some liquid fertilizing this year.. either with compost tea, or by other organic means. We’re going to work in as much compost as we can but we’re incredibly pressed for time. Our growing season is short and our seeds arrived later than was ideal. In knowing we need to amend our soil, I thought myself, hey, you guys probably (maybe?) need to too, and need a basic guide about soil PH and how to ease it in to the direction you need it to go in, to grow happy healthy plants.
What’s that, you say? You didn’t know soil had a PH, and that it effects your plants? One thing we tend to forget, is that soil is alive. Everything around us, is alive. Made up of living breathing molecules, organisms, micro and macro organisms… everything. In the air that we breath, the water that we drink, the food that we eat, everything we touch, is absolutely teeming with life. Our soil, is teeming with life. Part of growing our food or flowers, is nurturing the life below them. Replacing certain aspects that may have been depleted with fresh and healthy nutrients (and organisms) can and will make all the difference.
The first step in figuring out all of this PH business, is to get a test kit. That, or you could use natures PH indicator and plant some Hydrangea’s. Hydrangea’s will flower pink in alkaline soil, and blue in acidic soil. Neat, huh? However, that will take a few years and you want results now. Best just get the kit. There are some indicators, however, of what your soil may come up as on a test strip, before you use one. Pine forests for instance, usually come up as acidic.
So, say that you know what kind of soil you have now. What can you do to sway the results in a more desirable direction? Amend my friends, amend. What do I mean by that? I mean add healthy things in to your soil until you get the results you want. Think of your garden like a cake mix, or cookies, or bread. Take your pick. If you add or subtract an ingredient from the recipe, you are going to have a different result. Sometimes it takes a bit of experimenting, but you learn what works best for you. If you make a cake without eggs, it isn’t going to rise like a cake that was made with them. If you try to grow plants in soil that lacks in organic matter, your plants aren’t going to be nearly as happy. Simple.
Acid soil – Lime – neutralizes acidic soil and can help correct magnesium and calcium deficiencies. It also binds with aluminum and iron to form soluable compounds that will leach from the soil. The best time to put down lime, is in the fall / early winter. Freezing and thawing helps to really incorporate it in to the soil, though liming just before it rains is good too, because it draws it in to the soil. It’s also more fast acting when finely ground.
Alkaline soil – Elemental Sulphur – Easy to mix in with sand, or, you can top dress with it. Just don’t do it in the middle of summer, during a drought, or in a heat wave, you’ll scorch your plants. Basically, don’t do it if your plants are stressed out.
Saline soil – Water - Salty soil? Rinse some of that salt out by watering deeply, and make sure you have adequate drainage.
A good way to test the type of soil you have, is to go out in to your garden, dig up a handful, and give it a squeeze. How does it react? Does it clump up in a ball, and stay in the exact shape of your grasp? Does it fall apart? Can you squeeze water out of it? You can learn a lot about your dirt, just by touching it. Sandy soil will generally crumble fairly easily, and has crazy drainage. Whereas clay soil, compacts, and has very little. Clay soil will choke your plants and may rot roots, and sandy soil doesn’t like to hold moisture. A mixture of the two together, makes concrete. You can probably guess, that concrete isn’t what you want your plants to (try to) live in. How do you fix these problems? Just like dealing with the PH, we have to add something. What you’re looking for, is a balance between drainage, moisture retention, health, and nutrients. What do you add, for which type?
Clay – Organic Matter – The bigger, the better. Clay soil is made up of very very fine granules, and the aim of the game is to put as much seperation between those granules as possible. Compost, compost, compost. Adding a bit of nitrogen to the mix will help speed up breakdown.
Sandy – Organic Matter – Second verse, same as the first. Sandy soil doesn’t retain water well, because the grains are much larger, so the water just slips through with no way of staying put. Adding compost will help immensely, though, if the occasion calls for it, you may need to consider starting with bringing in a load of topsoil.
Additionally to compost, you can fertilize your garden with:
Bonemeal – Ground, dry, powdered bone, a primary source of phosphorus.
Bloodmeal – Dry, powdered blood, full of nitrogen, which will give you plants lovely foliage. As an alternative, you could use alfalfa meal, or feather meal.
Alfalfa Pellets – Another source of nitrogen, alfalfa pellets take longer to break down, thus giving you a longer running feeder for your garden.
Manure – There are many kinds to choose from, cow, sheep, rabbit etc, but make sure any manure you spread on your garden has been composting for at least a year, otherwise you will burn your plants.
Worm Castings – Worm poop. Awesome stuff, this. I haven’t had a chance to try it, myself, but I’ve seen the results from other gardens and I’d highly suggest it.
Guano – Bat, sea bird, or seal poop!
Seaweed – Broken down, of course.
Fish Meal – Dried, powdered fish. MMM…
Compost Tea – Any composted materials, steeped in water for a few days. Skim off any goop, water your plants with the tea, and watch your plants grow like they’re all ‘roided out.
Egg Shells – Any of your used egg shells: rinse them, bake them in the oven for 5-10 minutes at 350*f, then grind them up in a coffee ginder/mortar and pestle. These are a great source of calcium, and will help prevent blossom end rot if sprinkled in the holes of your tomato / cucumber plants when transplanting.
Yo’ Pee – Yes, pee. Full of nitrogen, friends.
All this being said, anybody that feels like bringing me a big load of compost and/or digging the rest of the vegetable bed for me in our horrible sandy/rocky/clay soil, will not only be welcomed, but worshipped. Now get off the computer (or phone/tablet/whatever-the-fuck), go out and plant something for fuck sakes!