The Q&A Archives: Composting In The Garden.

Question: My soil is so bad I wanted to give it a quick fix. I dug about a foot down in a big area and dumped a bag of leaves in the hole. I then covered it up with the soil I dug out. After that I covered the area with some rabbit droppings. How long will it take before it's usable? Is there any way to hurry it up?

Answer: Soil improvement is an ongoing process, so you need to take a long term look at it. First of all it's a good idea to run some basic soil tests to see which amendments (lime, fertilizer, etc.), if anything, your soil actually needs. Organic matter such as compost, rotted leaves, aged stable manure and bedding, etc. is almost always a good additon to soil and the more you can add, the better. Fresh manure can however burn plant roots, so it's usually a good idea to let it age first. Finally, it's usually a good idea to mix the amendments thooroughly with the soil so that there are no pockets of particularly good or bad soil. The reason for this is that soil texture has a big effect on both air and water movement and an isolated section of improved soil can end up working like a pot underground, causing the plant roots to grow in a circular fashion contained within that limited area or sometimes even acting like a sump and filling with water -- not a good thing in the long run.

Based on your description of what you did with your soil, I would expect it to be usable next spring if you mix it all together a bit, but I would urge you to follow the steps above, too. You can do all of them this fall and get a good jump on the spring! Your County Extension (285-4630) should be able to help you with the soil tests and interpreting the results.

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