How is your garden growing this year?
Ours has been the most productive yet and we are positive it’s because of the improvements we have made to the soil. Ask any gardener and they will tell you the key to a garden is the garden soil.
When I first started gardening there was no question that I wanted to grow organically. To me this meant not adding anything at all to the soil. I quickly learned after one growing season that the plants needed more than the soil mix I was using, even though it was called “veggie mix”.
So, how do you know what your soil needs?
Well, there are a couple options. You can start by completing a soil test, or you can simply start amending.
I decided to start with the amendments and go from there since we were already aware that our soil needed additional nutrients.
This was the most obvious first choice for improving our soil. Even if you’ve never gardened before, I’m sure you have heard of compost, and you might even be aware of its benefits. We started composting as soon as I realized how easy it could be, but this didn’t mean our compost was ready yet. Until ours is ready to use, I add purchased compost to the soil at the end of every growing season by sprinkling it on top and raking it in. For the maximum benefit, you will want to mix it up a bit and buy a variety of organic compost mixes. Buying compost isn’t inexpensive, but it is well worth it until your own compost pile is ready to use.
Add Trace Minerals
After lots of reading and watching videos, I decided to give Azomite a try. Azomite is a mineralized, compacted volcanic ash that replenishes the soil with trace elements. Fun fact: the name Azomite is a mnemonic meaning “A to Z of Minerals Including Trace Elements”.
When I researched different options, Azomite had the smallest amount of heavy metals in the mix which is the main reason I decided to try it before other brands. I later found out that the farm I was volunteering at uses it and several local garden stores that we trust carry it. Combine all that information and it helped me gain some trust in using more than just the soil to grow our food. Read more about Azomite here so you can feel confident in your decision as well.
Our first year using Azomite we saw a significant increase in our harvests. There were certain plants we had struggled to be successful with during our first year growing. After adding Azomite to the soil, the same varieties of plants were super prolific and we enjoyed harvests all season long.
Do you already use a rock dust or something similar in your garden but you still aren’t seeing results?
Feed Your Plants
The number one response I get when I ask why _____ (melons, tomatoes, peppers, anything!) isn’t ripening is, “When did you last feed your plants?” or “How often have you been feeding your plants?”.
As a new gardener, I used Neptune’s Harvest Fish Emulsion, but not on a regular basis. Most often I would use it on the plants once and then wait too long before using it again, or, sometimes, forget altogether. Once I set a reminder on my Google calendar to feed my plants weekly – and actually started doing it – I saw much better results. Not only would we get more fruit on the plants, we would get fruit faster.
If your plants aren’t flowering or the fruit isn’t ripening, you most likely need to feed them.
I use the fish emulsion once a week on all of our plants as soon as they get their true leaves. This means that if I am starting seeds inside, I will add fish emulsion to the seed trays once all the plants have their true leaves (typically the third and fourth leaves and the ones that resemble the parent plant).
Mulch Your Garden
The third key to improving your soil is mulch. Do you mulch your garden?
I used to think mulch had more to do with aesthetics than serving a purpose, and I will confess to leaving our garden beds with the soil exposed!
The more I learn about gardening, the more I understand how important mulch is to the entire process.
Have you ever forgotten to mulch between seasons?
I’ve done this as well. I’m guilty of getting so excited about what I’m growing that I forget this important step. It seems like I’m more likely to forget in the summer. I guess because we are all shedding extra layers.
Your garden, however, needs that protection all the time. Mulch…
- helps regulate the temperature of the soil (helps keep the ground from freezing in the winter and from getting too hot in the summer)
- helps the plants to retain more water and lessens the amount of water that evaporates from the soil
- improves soil fertility and structure (Soil health is the MOST important part of gardening.)
- keeps produce (e.g. cucumbers) off damp soil, therefore helping to eliminate diseases
- helps eliminate weeds from growing in your garden beds (remember those weeds might be telling you something if they do show up)
- creates pathways in your yard or between your beds allowing you to access the produce more easily
There are lots of choices for different types of mulch. Some people feel super strongly about wood chips while others use their grass clippings. We started by looking into the least expensive option, and we steered clear of red and black mulch because they are dyed that way.
We have used cedar wood chips, grass and untreated straw as mulch. I don’t think I have a favorite although I do prefer straw for winter. Something about it just seems like a big, warm blanket for the garden.
I don’t think what you use matters that much. The most important part is that you are not leaving your soil bare.
With the combination of compost, trace minerals, organic fertilizer and mulch you will definitely improve the health of your soil, which will improve the health of your plants and, ultimately, YOU!