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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Excellent Adventures in Backyard Farming

Have you seen the famous B movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. It is the true story (maybe not true) about 2 high school metalheads that are the epitome of pathetic. They get a visit from Rufus, a man from the future, that tells them that if they don't pass their history class, they will not go on to form the music that is the basis for a future Utopian society and the earth will be doomed. They then travel through time to prepare for the best history presentation ever. Don't worry if you haven't seen the movie, the point is Bill and Ted are slackers that go on to do great things. Much like Bill and Ted we found out recently that our soil is pretty pathetic as well.

You might ask how how we know that we have sub par soil? We took our soil into our local extension recently and we found out what we already expected. Our soil is pathetic, lazy and vile. It is very alkaline, and there are extremely low levels of Nitrogen and phosphorous.  For more information on soil testing got to this link and read the PDF articles entitled Why should I test my soil and Soil testing guide for home gardeners.

It was not a huge surprise that our soil is the equivalent to a high school version of Bill and Ted. We have talked to other gardeners in our area and they have warned us that it will take some work to get the soil up to par. The long term remedy to all of our problems is compost, compost, compost. Many of the gardeners around here use mink manure compost for their gardens.

As I researched using mink manure, I found that it is high in phosphorus and nitrogen, both of which our soil is in need of. We paid someone to bring us 7 square yards of manure that had been composted for more than 3 years with pine shavings. They dumped it in a pile on our property (see picture on left). Not only does the manure add the needed nutrients, the composted pine is supposed to reduce our soil alkalinity as well. Who knows, maybe one day our slacker, good for nothing soil might actually make something of itself.

In a future article we will show you how we prepared our first garden plot. Until then, give us feedback on what do you use to improve your garden soil?

Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes.



Cindy said...

I've heard that having the soil tested is a good idea, but it's one of those good ideas that I never get around to actually doing. In the past, I've gardened in raised beds that I've filled with local soil mixed with LOTS of compost. I like the idea of purchasing manure that was composted with pine to adjust the pH.

Since I'm currently on an extremely tight budget, I just let the chickens overwinter in the vegie garden and am turning the soil and mixing in a very little bit of purchased compost left over from last year.

It's the "Work with what you've got" gardening method.

Jenny said...

Saw your post and thought I'd offer some help since I am just finishing a degree in agronomy & soil science. My recent experiment in school dealt with an herb called comfrey. It is an excellent source of nutrients and has more nitrogen than manure. You can layer it on your soil or add it to your compost. It's not a quick fix but will definately help you out. Best of luck & don't give up yet!

daisy said...

I've never had my soil tested, so kudos to you.

Party on farmer dudes...

Amy @ Homestead Revival said...

Every gardener has something to contend with. No paradise that is free of issues.

For additional nitrogen in the future, have you considered cover crops?

Jacci said...

We have never had our soil tested either. We are in south Texas, therefore are able to garden year-round. Twice a year when changing around beds we enrich with compost.

Jen J said...

We live in mink farm country and have connections, if you'd like free manure. You'd have to come to our neck of the woods to get it though. :)

Astrid in Bristling Acres said...

Hmm....I've just been amending our soil with compost.

I'm curious about what one of the previous commentors recommended: comfrey. I wonder how that works. Do you grow it as a beneficial plant in your garden and it helps provide nitrogen to the soil?
I've also heard of green compost (cover crops) but I've got small raised beds so that doesn't seem feasible to me.

Mike said...

Cindy: I like the idea of working with what you have. We hope to have goats and rabbits that will help us add nutrients to the soil.

Jenny: We will look into comfrey. Do you plant it like a cover crop, or grow it and then add it in separately?

Daisy: We have never done it before this year but since we are on a new property we wanted to know what we are dealing with to start out.

Amy: We have never done cover crops but it appeals to me. Anything that can naturally amend the soil is awesome in my book.

Jacci: It would be awesome to have year round beds.

Jen: Even without the mink poo hookup we need to figure out a way to get the families together.

Astrid: You are right. I don't know that cover crops would work in a raised bed since you don't normally till raised beds. Maybe I am wrong though.....anyone know for sure?


I have cruddy soil like yours.
Amend the soil and eventually you will get somewhere. Compost everything you can. Additionally, have you considered raising rabbits? That is some of the very best poop I have ever composted. Magical. In the meantime, construct some raised beds and import some good soil. A small area can serve as your experimental plot while you get the rest of your soil healthy.

Good luck.

Brian said...

I make my compost although I never seem to have enough so I also buy it. In Maryland, most garden centers sell a product called LeafGro which is basically leaf and wood based compost. The company who makes it works in conjunction with the various municipal governments to process the "yard waste" that is collected during curb side recycling pick-up. I've also heard that if you grow various legumes such as green beans, the plants will fix nitrogen in the soil then after the beans are finished, you can plant something else in their place. I guess the thought is that the new plants can use the nitrogen produced by the beans.

Anonymous said...

We have difficult soil too, it's sandy and rocky. One thing we are debating is getting rabbits. We want their nutrient rich droppings for our garden and the chickens and rabbits should live together well. Hey, it's an excuse for a new pet so perhaps you'd be interested too. Ha ha

Bach Bunch said...

goat manure is the best!! Chicken and rabbit are too but have to wait a year to put into your garden area!!

Mrs. Farmer said...

We have pig and chicken manure to contend with anyway, so we are seldom short on soil enhancements. Just like someone said above, however, you do have to wait a year to use it. We made a mistake of putting too much young chicken poo on the garden one year and did some damage to our vegetables.

We have it together now: two poo piles- this year and last year. This year's pile is getting bigger and bigger, and last year's pile is getting smaller and smaller...

Happy Spring!

Mike said...

Maybelline: We have considered rabbits. Now that you brought it up we think about it more seriously.

Brian: Great suggestions.I have never heard of Leafgro.

Alexis: Another vote for rabbits. Maybe we will have to get some.

Bach Bunch: Goats are in our short term plans this year. We are excited to get some.

Mrs Farmer: I like the idea of two poo piles.

Summer said...

Good info. Michael, you are not a fan of question marks. I can always tell I'm reading you because of the lack of question marks.