This week’s subject: DIRT! That’s right, everyone likes to “dish” the “dirt”, right? Well, the dirt I refer to is not that kind of negative trash talk. Garden soil is something to be revered. What is the most important ingredient when growing gorgeous, vibrant, healthy plants? Not water, not sunshine. Dirt!
The soil you plant your seeds and seedlings into is the very thing that provides them with the nutrients they need to grow. It is food for a plant. Yes, of course water and sunshine are also vital. But the nutrient density of the soil you work with is the foundation of your house. And without a strong foundation, that house may crumble.
I am extremely fortunate to live in a country setting, with many dairy farmers nearby. We have an arrangement with one of these farmers to deliver a dump truck full of the most beautiful, rich, dark, nutrient-dense soil I have ever seen. It is essentially composted manure. It does not smell at all – years of “development” takes care of that issue. And yes, I said a dump truck. (More on the size of my garden in a later blog post!)
So, what if you do not live in this sort of setting, with such a fun relationship with the neighbor farmer? You still have options! Talk to the vendors at your local farmers market – ask for advice or see if they will sell you some dirt. I have also seen giant bags delivered to your home – Big Yellow Bag – one cubic yard is less than $150. Composting is a wonderful way to augment your own soil with nutrients – I have seen easy-to-use composting kits for less than $200. Be aware that this composting takes over a year to produce any product that you can add to your soil. If you choose to buy bags of soil from a big box store, you will pay quite a lot more for essentially “fake” soil – they use additives to create a nutrient mix, it is not truly natural or organic, and the life/love is just not there. I would not advise doing this – unless for just a few potted or hanging plants.
For a first time gardener, or if you are very busy, I highly recommend a raised bed garden! We built one for my mom last year – it is 8’ x 4’, about 18” deep, and she was able to grow MORE than enough produce for her needs. Raised beds allow for easier weeding – less bending over, less labor. You can also plant them more densely – no need to walk between the rows, so you produce more per square foot. Plus, many critters stay out of raised beds, so you may have the advantage of avoiding crop destruction at the hands of hungry bunnies.
If you have a larger garden, or one that is on ground level, you will have to till the soil to prepare it for planting. This is where the hard work comes in – either a Roto-Tiller, pitch fork, or a shovel is used, and you just dig and turn over the soil, one scoop at a time. This aerates the soil, removes any remaining weeds and roots from the previous season, and integrates nutrients throughout the mix. Depending on the size of your garden, this may take more than one outing – as it can be a strain on your back muscles.
Here are the “before” and “after” photos of part of my garden tilling:
With that in mind, I will close with my hope for current and future gardeners: Please please remember that after a long (sometimes lazy) winter, it is best to begin outdoor activities slowly and using caution. I have had many massage clients come in recently with pulled and overstrained back muscles. While we DO love to see you at Bodywork Professionals – we don’t want you to be injured. It is best to start only with an hour or two in the beginning, and work up to adding more time or exertion once your body has grown accustomed to using new muscles and movements. Come in for your much-deserved recovery massage as a reward for all your hard work!!!