The Q&A Archives: What to Grow on Compacted Soil

Question: One area of my veggie garden is very hard and sandy composition. I am trying to add mulch to soften it up, mostly grass clippings. It gets full sun. What can I grow there?

Answer: You're off on the right foot by mixing in organic matter, and a cover crop sounds like the next step. Some crops are great at breaking up compacted soil with their extensive root systems. This fall, heap more organic matter on the spot, and water it with a fish/seaweed/kelp/humic acid fertilizer. The fertilizer helps microorganisms break down the mulch into humus, and the by-products of the process will help improve the soil texture and drainage. If you can find any nearby, introduce some earthworms to the pile. Next spring, till the pile into the soil. Mulch the tilled surface again, and wait two weeks for the soil to stabilize. Pull the mulch aside and sow the area with soybeans or fava beans that you've inocculated with nitrogen fixing bacteria (available from most garden centers and seed catalogs). Turn the beans into the soil while they're green and vigorous (around bloom time). Again, let the soil sit for a couple of weeks with mulch on top to absorb the new green "stuff" from the soybeans. You may have time to grow another round of beans, or, if the soil is sufficiently improved, put in some of your garden crops. Best of luck!

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