Step 2: Your Ability to Grow Food
Step 3: Creating Soil You Can Grow With
Soil conditioning may sound intimidating, but once you understand a few basics, you’ll be ready to get started!
Because this is a beginner series, I am going to keep this really simple. After all, we’re just talking about dirt, right? How hard can it be?
Soil can be a complex and challenging topic, but as a beginning homesteader, you just want to grow something…anything! Am I right?
You just need to know enough to get growing for now….here are some possible scenarios that you might be in.
Scenario 1: You have little or no top soil.
Assuming that you are in an urban or suburban lot, you may be a victim of “top soil stripping“, a common practice among builders. If this is the case, you may not even have any top soil to work with.
As I discuss in this post, learning the history of your land can be very revealing and give you the information you need to create a garden. If you live in a suburb, try to find out if you have your top soil layer. Asking some of your older neighbors might be very informative.
If you have no top soil, you will have to bring top soil back in. This isn’t all that bad, given that you can somewhat control the quality of top soil you choose to bring to your yard. This can be accomplished by looking for ads or signs or even by calling a few local garden centers for referrals. Bagged soil is available as well, but if you are working with a large garden, the price might be prohibitive. Purchasing by the truck-load would be the best buy.
Scenario 2: You have top soil but either it’s too sandy or clay-ish.
Guess what? The remedy is the same! Compost! Bringing the right organisms and beneficial bacteria to your soil will begin to improve your soil in less time than you might think!
When we moved to our country property, the soil had been farmed for many years and was not only compacted, but full of clay. It was so incredible hard to work with, just as hard as rocks in some places. I knew that I needed to get composting immediately.
I’ll cover composting soon, that’s a topic in and of itself, but for now, until you can create some compost, you have a few choices to improve your soil’s quality:
* I do not recommend doing this on a regular basis (due to the price) but purchasing some bagged organic compost might be a good first year solution. Obviously, you want to create your own compost, but until then…
* Find some aged manure (“aged” means that the poo isn’t fresh, it’s old, at least 6 months old.) Fresh poo is too “hot” or high in nitrogen and will burn your plants. That’s why we used aged.
* I like humus (“Humus” is Latin for “soil”) for the garden. If you want to plant a 4×4 garden plot, one bag of compost and one bag of humus would be plenty to get you started.
Mix whatever you add to your soil well, turning and turning with a shovel, unless you are lucky enough to have a tiller or able to borrow one.
Scenario 3: You are limited to a container garden.
To begin your gardening experience, I would buy container mix. Keep it simple. Once you get some gardening success, you’ll be ready to learn more about soil.
Once you fill your containers, you’ll be ready to plant some seeds! Keep in mind that it’s not necessary to purchase expensive containers. On the contrary, re-purposing pottery and/or plastic pails ( that didn’t formerly contain anything toxic, like paint) could well be not only a creative but a beautiful option.
When growing in pots, make sure the pots have good drainage or your plants will drown. Just poking holes in the bottom of the plastic pails will do, just be careful. Adding some pea gravel to the bottom few inches of your container will help drainage as well, but do not fore-go the drainage holes.
Try to use whatever you can find for free. Keep in mind that every dollar you spend on materials will make your garden produce more expensive. Go healthy, but go cheap.