Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Greening my Fingers - Nourishing the Soil

Nowhere more than in a vegetable garden to we see the principle of what you give is what you get.

After feeding our family all summer, the soil in our veggie tunnel needs nourishing. I want to spend as little cash as possible, using what I have to return goodness into this soil. Here is how I do it:

 Mulch, mulch and mulch again. Mulch keeps the goodness and moisture in the soil, suppresses weeds and also decomposes slowly to enrich the soil over the long run. I use old dried out grasses that are grown here. Mulch could be anything from leaf litter to wood chips and sawdust, to straw. Whatever you can find, without paying for it, is perfect. When we lived in the city and had one little raised vegetable box, we visited a sawmill and collected sawdust for mulching.

Living mulch, or green manure is wonderful for beds that are lying fallow over winter. If you look carefully below you will see the oats that I have sown a month ago. The bed is now covered with the lush green grass-like oats which will be dug into the soil to feed it before the oats go to seed. I might first cut some for my chickens.

 Worm farms are popular and provide excellent nutrients for the soil. Why go to the expense of buying a commercial worm farm when a homemade setup will do the job just as well? The open barrel is covered with a dry mulch to protect the worms from our chickens and to keep them moist. The new vegetable scraps go in at the top end of the barrel. As it becomes compost, the worms move out of it into fresh scraps of waste, leaving fewer worms in the rich compost at the lower end of the barrel. The open drainage hole at the bottom drips rich black 'worm tea' into the bucket. From there it is diluted and fed to my seedlings. The black bucket on the left contains comfrey leaves which decompose in water to make a smelly, but excellent potassium-rich fertilizer, especially good for tomatoes.

We have three compost heaps. The first, well decomposed, is being hauled onto the beds in barrow loads before they are covered in mulch for the winter. Below is the second compost bed in an old rusty feed trough. It was built up in summer with lots of garden refuse, manure and kitchen waste and topped with cut grass from the lawns. Now it is maturing, hopefully to be ready for springtime planting. The plank makes a great wheelbarrow ramp.

Our cows, Rose and Joy provide lovely manure pats which are collected and tossed into the newest compost pile that is growing in their nighttime pen. It helps to keep the compost as close to the source of manure as possible and also close to the vegetable tunnel.
 This new compost pile is quickly growing  as we clear spent plants and fallen leaves from the garden. We also throw wood ash from our winter  fires into the mix.
 Once a week, the chicken house is swept out and their dropping are also added to the pile. Back in the city, certain stables allowed gardeners to come in and collect manure and old stable sweepings for free, others sold bags of manure for a minimal cost. It all helps to enrich the soil.

So there you have it, wonderful soil nourishment that costs nothing except a bit of effort. 
USE IT - DON'T LOSE IT is my motto.
Every possible available thing is used to enrich the soil that in turn nourishes us. 


  1. Mmmh, I really need to mulch more...weeds are a huge issue here. I am just struggling to find a decent cheap material for it. We leave our stinkwood leaves as they fall but this is only in a small portion of the garden.

  2. Seeweed is wonderful for winter, especially for asparagus, and I know that you are allowed a quota of free gleaning. There was a sawmill down Wireless Road that we used to visit. How about stables for old dirty straw.

  3. I was warned about old straw with pathogens....?

  4. You could compost it first then.