Soil is a complex web of life with billions of living organisms operating within its structure. Vegetables require a lot of nutrients to grow and thrive, which means they often deplete the soil over time. Early spring is the perfect time to check the health of our soil and get it into shape before planting.
We moved back into our Portland homestead in December and who knows how the renters cared for the soil, if at all. The “structure” of the soil – that optimal mixture of sand, silt and clay – would probably be fine since it was perfect when we left. Soil with good structure will have a loamy texture and hold it’s shape when you squeeze it. I worried more about compaction of the soil and depletion of organic matter.
Organic matter is compost – the stuff that all those beneficial micro-organisms munch on. It’s their job to deliver nutrients to your vegetables, so it’s important to keep them fat and happy. That way there will be more of them and they will work even harder! Every season vegetables will deplete that organic matter, so it’s important to find a way to add it back in to keep the levels high.
Compaction comes mainly from weather and time – rain pounds on the soil compacting it or things simply sink down over seasons. That makes it hard for the roots of plants to dig deep down. You end up with stubby carrots or plants that are less resilient to dry spells, since their roots can’t dig down to get more water.
To help with compaction over winter, we covered the beds with used chicken and duck bedding, rich with nitrogen from their manure. I dug that into the soil this week to loosen things up, keeping the beds nice and fluffy. The bedding material is also mulch, helping to retain water within the soil.
I was thrilled to discover that the previous tenants were adding compost to the soil. As I turned my pitchfork, the soil underneath the bedding was dark brown and nutrient-rich. The manure from the ducks and chickens basically added frosting to an already delicious cake. Can you make that analogy when talking about manure?? Eh.
Check out my earlier post on Making Good Garden Soil to learn all about ideal soil structure and building organic matter. While you’re at it, I am guest blogging over at HandPicked Nation over the next few weeks! Check that out for some of my most popular posts on keeping ducks, bees and planning the garden.