Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Preparing our Garden Beds

We are blessed with very deep soil.  It is former sugar cane land that has had cows grazing on it for the last dozen years.  It is red clay, very acidic with a pH of about 5.1 and is depleted of nutrients and organic matter.  It is a unique soil type that has extreme drainage capacity.   Average rainfall here is over 180 inches per year (15 feet) and we never see standing water.  Lately climate change has halved that rainfall total.

Double Dug with dolomite ready to mix in

So how do I start to prepare an area for a garden?  First. I double dig the soil.  That means digging down one shovel in depth, then digging down a second shovel depth.  The clay is so thick and sticky that I have to knock the dirt off the shovel blade, then chop up the dirt clod into smaller particles, shovel full by shovel full.  I typically dig a bed about 4 feet wide so I can get to the center without stepping on the bed itself.  I add dolomite lime to sweeten our acidic soil, then mix this in thoroughly.  Dolomite adds both calcium and magnesium, essential elements for balanced plant growth

chipped sugar cane
grass clipping prevent weeds
thin layer of IMO #4 
horse manure over cane chips

We have sugar cane growing wild around our property in the gulches.  I cut some cane and chipped it with my wood chipper.  This adds organic material and has the added benefit of containing sugars, which are food to the IMO's. One could use compost instead. If I have any mature compost piles available, I would mix those into the soil, trying to attain approximately 16% organic material in my soil.  I spread the cane chips several inches thick over the bed, then added a couple of trash cans full of horse manure on top of the bed (my neighbor has horses and each week I get one trash can of horse manure when they clean the stalls).   Then I added IMO #4 (explained in a previous post) at about one half inch thick.  I topped all of this off with a layer of lawn clippings to protect the IMO #4 from the sun (mortal enemy of IMO) and to prevent weeds from sprouting.  Then I watered and let sit for a couple of weeks before transplanting zucchini seedlings into the bed.

abundant harvest, healthy plants, no fertilizers

In five to six weeks I had more zucchini than we could eat.  Fresh steamed zucchini, zucchini bread, zucchini soup.  It was overwhelming!

This season I won't till or shovel the soil.  The worms and old plant roots have created a fertile oxygen rich growing zone with plenty of organic material.  I'll just add a layer of chipped cane, horse manure, and IMO #4, topped with grass clipping and then plant vegetable seedlings.  Every couple of weeks I spray some of Master Cho's natural home made potions on my edible plants, but that's it.  No fertilizers, no NPK.  I'll talk about how to make these different spays in future posts.

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