Welcome All! I'm a dreamer, I hope you are too! A Posse ad Esse, or From possibility to reality, is a general state of mind. I hope you'll share your possibilities with me as I will with you. Namaste~

March 22, 2011

Building the soil in a (sub)Urban Garden I

When we moved into our current home, nearly seven years ago, the soil we had been dealt was only soil in the very loosest sense of the word. Because we knew we wanted to have a garden, we built raised beds and essentially created good soil right in place. It worked well, and we have been able to use those garden beds for the last six garden seasons with good results.Here's a picture taken during our second spring...

The other thing that we did, while using those beds, was to add copious amounts of organic matter to our soil.every year we mulched the walkways and added manure to the garden beds.in the fall we made sure to add lots of grass clippings, leaves and other available forms of compostable materials to the beds which was then turned into the soil the following spring. This had the effect of, over time, building the soil around our raised beds into pretty good soil as well. In fact, each spring when we've been cleaning out the garden and preparing for the next season, we've been forced to make time to lift our raised bed garden frames to make sure they were still sitting on the surface of our garden paths. If we hadn't done this they would have been buried a couple of years back and the soil inside them would have come over the edges... and I'm not exaggerating.
If you look close at this picture from a couple of years later you can see how the 6" deep garden frames have been buried down to only a couple of inches.

Michael Pollen, in his book _The Omnivores' Dilemma_, mentioned a phenomenon called "uppening" of the soil. I can scarcely think of a better way to describe what's been happening in the garden for these last 6 years. Not only has the soil in our garden become slowly more fertile and friable in our north garden, but the soil has literally gotten taller! Take a look back at that first picture above, see the bottom fence panel? The garden mulch is at about the same level at the bottom of that panel. Then take look at the second picture... notice how the garden level is creeping up the fence panel?

This year, we decided to take advantage of that fertile, friable soil that we've been slowly building in this part of our yard by actually removing the garden bed frames all together and tilling up the whole area.
removing the garden bed frames and getting ready to till in mulched area.

While doing this, we’ll be able to expand our garden area while also increasing the rooting depth of the plants that we grow, something that in our arid climate is a great help to their success. We'll be able do increase the rooting depth because after we double dig and run our cultivator over the garden we will also mound up the soil into loosely formed raised furrows. (I'll have to show that in a later post.)
Digging in fence guards to keep the "uppened" soil in our garden.

After double digging the garden beds, we dug a trench along our fence line and placed 3/4 inch thick 18" wide plywood sheeting between the fence posts to act as a soil barrier because last year our soil ended up actually pushing the fencing in and bowing it. Can't have that.
After cultivating and before mounding the furrows.

By this point we were ready to form up furrows, get ready for spring planting and get on to the other beds.

I've learned through the process of watching our garden evolve, that things in the garden take time. There are seasons not just throughout the year, but also throughout the gardens life cycle. This soil was once "unusable" and it now beginning to become fertile, and healthy soil. I wonder how it will be in a couple of more years...?
How are things going in your garden? Have you had to overcome poor soil conditions. What did you do to improve it organically?


Kate said...

Our garden soil is coming along too. We tilled for three years straight, and have lasagna mulched very heavily in the last two years. From now on, no more tilling. I'll rely on lasagna or sheet mulching to keep weeds down. The lasagna mulch will help build the soil, but I'm also starting to use daikons and burdock to loosen the soil and add organic matter at the deeper levels in our native clay soil. Will also do a small amount of double digging when we put in another 25 asparagus crowns next month. Other than that, I'll incorporate a lot of compost when I dig holes for transplants.

Anonymous said...

Our soil is coming along. We have also been in our place for 7 years but I have to admit to ignoring the soil for the first couple of years. I was finishing the basement and the garden came in second place. But after 4 years of attention our soil is looking better too, although not as good as yours. The key is compost and other organic mater. I never plant anything without adding compost first!! Your garden looks great!! Rick

FreeRange Pamela said...

This is really inspiring. We are in a place where we have a lot of rock (limestone) and not much topsoil. But you've given me hope that, over time, we might be able to improve it. We just moved here in September, so it's very early yet. Patience.

Sandy said...

I'm lucky to have good soil overall, but I also have a ton of industrial strength weeds. My yard is essentially a hilly pasture. So, I also use a lot of raised beds as a way of keeping weeds a bit more under control. It works pretty well.