How to Create Kick-Ass SoilJuly 27, 2013 by Melanie Swick | 3 Comments
A supply of canned and freeze-dried food is an essential part of self-sufficiency, but it’s not a long-term plan. Even the most prepared can stock at most, 1-2 years worth of food, and even that takes a lot of space and money.
But growing your own food can mean a steady supply of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and you’ll probably have plenty left over for canning, or even sharing with your neighbors, which helps build a stronger local community of people who can depend on each other in an emergency Plus, you’ll develop a skill few people have these days.
The key to a plentiful harvest is rich, fertile soil. You could pick up soil at the garden center of your local big box retailer, but that’s just a starting point, because you have two main options.
- Specialty soil with a fertilizer blend.
- Ordinary top soil.
I avoid the specialty soil that with fertilizer because I prefer to grow organically, keeping chemicals out of my gardens, so I start with ordinary top soil. Depending on the supplier and age of that soil, it may or may not contain organic matter which is necessary for plant growth. Optimal growth requires a mixture of components; about 45 percent soil, 25 percent, silt, 25 percent clay, and 5 percent organic matter—all of which should be available in the garden center. If not, check with your local nurseries.
Most of the components are pretty self-explanatory. The organic matter is a little more complex, but could be a variety of things; grass clippings, manure, compost, etc. Just be careful when choosing manure—some types, such as cow, goat, or chicken manure have excessive nitrogen content and must be fully composted before use to prevent burning and killing your plants. Rabbit manure, however, can be used as-is.
Personally, I use a compost that comes from a variety of materials. The rabbits I breed live in raised hutches, so their waste drops below through the wire cages, covering a 4′ x 16′ area. I’ll toss in any fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen, as well as grass clippings, other plant material from yard work, and small amounts of branches. About once a week, I’ll rake it all into a big pile, turn it over several times with a shovel, and wet the pile. (It should be about as wet as a well wrung sponge.). Every two–months or so, it will have decomposed into an ideal compost that I can either mix into soil for a new garden, or spread it on top of my existing gardens.
You can take it a step further and ensure that the moisture content remains consistently and at the proper level, which helps reduce over or under watering problems. Mulch is one obvious way to do this, but I prefer to use a cover crop that I can utilize for other purposes as well. Some of the plants I use for this are:
- Marigolds, which repel insects and animals, and produce edible flowers (both for people and livestock), grow to provide excellent ground cover and choke out weeds.
- Citronella, which repels pest insects—especially mosquitoes—and has many culinary uses as well.
- Peppermint, which spreads quickly, provides numerous health benefits, and produces large nectar-rich flowers that attract honey bees.
Creating kick-ass soil isn’t a one time effort though—it takes constant work. Over time, the organic matter will break down reducing the volume of your soil, so you’ll have to top it off from time to time. You’ll also need to rotate your crops every season or so because each plant takes different nutrients from the soil which will need to be replaced. Finally, you must ensure that your soil remains loose and aerated; a board with multiple nails is a good way to do this. You can also add earthworms to your soil because in addition to aerating your soil, they also add additional fertilization.
Don’t get discouraged if your soil doesn’t produce the results you’re looking for right away; it’s going to take some trial and effort, and your results may vary based on the plants you’re trying to grow and your geographic area. But the advice I shared here will put you ahead of the game.