The Q&A Archives: Improving Soil

Question: I am preparing my soil for my vegetable garden this year. The soil has had crops planted on it for the past 7 years (I do rotate). I have burned on the spot and am planning on tilling the ashes, dehydrated manure, dried blood and ordinary plant fertilizler. Am I missing anything? I have always had a good (not great) garden, so if there is something I am missing up front, I would like to include it.

Answer: The first thing I would do is have a soil test done. Often, something as simple as adding some limestone to adjust pH can have a dramatic effect on a garden's productivity. (Wood ashes also raise soil pH to some extent. I am assuming you burned only wood ashes, and nothing toxic.) Your cooperative Extension office offers soil test kits; contact them at ph# 610-696-3500.

Almost any soil can be improved by the addition of organic matter. Compost, well-rotted manure, grass clippings, fall leaves are all good amendments, and can be tilled in in the spring. (Wait a week or two before planting.) I would not till in the dried blood; this is a highly soluble nitrogen source and is best used as a fertilizer applied directly to growing plants. (Follow label directions; you can gently scratch the bloodmeal into the soil surface.) Nitrogen is easily lost through leaching and other chemical processes. As far as the "ordinary" fertilizer, I would only use a slow-release and/or organic fertilizer. Many garden fertilizers are meant to be applied directly to growing plants.

I like to mulch my paths, and around the plants, with an organic mulch. Grass clippings are great; for the paths I use newspapers covered with hay. I hope this helps, and I hope you have a great garden this year!

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