Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
February, 2001
Regional Report

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My son Jon is learning the benefits of building good soil at an early age. He's a future great gardener in the works.

I Love My Soil

Ahhh, the smell of it! The wonderful feel of its crumbly particles sifting through my fingers. The soft dark earth beneath my knees as I kneel down to scoop up a handful of soil from my garden. There's nothing like healthy soil. I love working the soil in spring as much as the summer harvests.

The Basis of Life

Someone once said that of all human beings' achievements, of all we have invented, built, and organized into civilizations, we owe our very existence to a 6-inch layer of soil and the rain. Indeed, most of our food is dependent on that layer of stuff many folks call dirt. We gardeners know how important soil is. We're the stewards of the future in the way we care for our soil.

Growing Good Soil

You can't grow a good garden without good soil, and, unfortunately, few start with good soil. Problems include soil that's too sandy or too clayey, that has bad drainage or underlying surface rock, to name a few. But the great news is that we can turn our less than perfect soil into good soil with time and additions of compost.

We're growing some great soil in our garden this year. The key ingredients are compost and rabbit droppings from my kids' bunnies. We call this secret ingredient "le poo de bonet." When space allows, I also like to grow a cover crop to turn under in spring, which adds organic matter to the soil. I'm ready to turn under the ryegrass and clover crop I sowed last fall. After a couple of weeks of decomposition, I'll seed some lettuce and other greens in those beds.

The Beauty of Compost

Adding compost and "le poo de bonet" provides many benefits to our soil. Compost helps sand hold nutrients and helps clay form a crumbly, well-aerated structure, making for better drainage. It also brings a soil to life, by adding food for microbes, which, in turn, stimulate root growth and make nutrients available to plants. Compost gives soil that great fresh aroma that I've come to associate with healthy soils. We're in our second year of soil building at our new gardens, and I am beginning to see the benefits. Turning soil this spring was easier than last year, and our early plants are thriving.

Soil Test

Besides compost, a soil test is a great tool for fine-tuning your soil. Your county extension office can help you get your soil tested. The results will help determine whether your pH needs adjustment and can guide any future fertilizer additions beyond the compost and manure. Our last soil test indicated that our phosphorus was really high and we need only add some nitrogen and a little potassium. All this fine-tuning will lead to healthy soil and a more problem-free garden this year.

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