Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Manure Garden!

The garden looks beautiful now with a fresh layer of manure on it, so I just have to show it off!  I hate when gardening books and magazines show a background of dark, rich, bare soil with bright accents of green plants.  It looks so good, but I would never want to leave my soil bare for too long, or I would quickly lose valuable nutrients, and my rich, moist, dark soil would start to look like a dry, gray wasteland very quickly.  Oh, and it has headed in that direction in times of neglect.  My garden rarely looks like that, more often being a mess of layered grass and leaf mulch.  But over the last few days, after a fresh load of manure, and then a nice gentle rain, covered in a shower of mustard blossom petals, I think, for now, it's magazine quality.

Soil Management:
It's generally best to amend your soil at least once in spring and once in fall and then add other nutrient boosters throughout the season.  I hadn't yet gotten around to major soil amendment this spring, so it was long overdue.   Here is a list of my most common soil management strategies:
  • Mulching:  As mentioned above, I try to keep a thick layer of mulch on my garden at all times.  This will reduce soil erosion and therefore nutrient loss as well as reduce water evaporation from your soil.  Keeping my garden moist in the hot North Carolinian summers would be impossible without a thick layer of mulch.  I try to layer nitrogen-rich green mulches (i.e. grass clippings) with more carbon-rich brown mulches (i.e. leaves) so that the mulch will also continuously break down and add to my soil.  You can also see a layer of straw on my strawberry beds in the slideshow, mainly because I got it for free from Halloween party leftovers last fall.  That is probably my main requirement for mulch, that it be FREE!  
  • "Fertilizer":  My worms generally provide all the "fertilizer" I need.  I generally try to put a scoop of worm dirt in with new transplants when they first go in the ground.  If I'm direct planting from seed, I put a scoop in the ground between each seed, since too much fertilizer on young seedlings can "burn" them.  Additionally, I dilute worm "juice" or "tea" that drains off the worm bin and either water with it or spray it on my plants as a foliar feed.  
  • Compost:  The worm compost mentioned above is produced in much too small of quantities to put a layer on the whole garden, and it is much more nutrient-dense than "regular" compost.  Therefore, I also keep a compost pile out back for non-worm-friendly kitchen waste, leaves, and garden waste.  This produces larger quantities that I can use to put a layer on my entire garden.  
    • NOTE:  Diseased or pest-infested garden waste should either go in the trash or should be composted in a separate pile not to be used on the garden.  
  • Manure:  I've now had a couple of different sources for manure.  I used to find it on Craig's List, but this time my friend Genna helped me dig it from a horse farm near her house.  I loaded up the Cavalier, lining the trunk with tarps and filling big tubs.  This gave me enough to put about two inches over the whole garden.  I hope to soon cover it with a layer of leaf mulch, but for now, it looks too beautiful!

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