Thursday, March 5, 2009

Good Garden Soil

When we first moved here, and for years afterward, an older gentleman in Kennesaw grew roses, lots and lots of roses, out by the road on Cherokee Street in the older part of town. I stopped to talk with him once. He said that a friend brought him a truckload of oak leaves to use for mulch each year, but that his yard had naturally good soil. I remember thinking that that couldn't be possible. My yard's soil, just a few miles away, is naturally just a great glob of red clay.

I wondered whether the difference was that my neighborhood's topsoil might have been scraped off during "development," while his was what was originally in place. I will never know, but most people I talk to around here have soil like mine.

Walter Reeves (see link to his site on the right) certainly seems to have soil like mine, and offers some good advice about improving it so desirable plants will actually grow in it:

"I have lots of clay in my landscape soil. When I prepare a bed, I spade up the existing soil as deeply as I can with a round-point shovel. Onto my loosened pile I pour a two cubic foot bag of soil conditioner for every ten square feet of bed. On top goes two bags of gritty sand (Quikrete All-Purpose Sand, PaveStone Underlayment Sand, granite dust, etc) . I also scatter a pint of garden lime and a half-bag of hen manure on the site. My Mantis tiller makes short work of mixing it all together but, if the soil is moderately dry, a shovel is almost as fast.

I rake the bed smooth, stand back a minute to admire my handiwork and then drink some iced tea, secure in the knowledge that this PREPARED BED will be a happy home for anything I plant there."

I've never added quite this much sand, but my garden soil still hasn't reach that loamy perfection that veggies grow so well in. And really, even though I add organic matter every year, from compost, dug-in decomposed mulch, purchased soil conditioner, to the occasional cover-crop, clay is still the most obvious element of my garden's soil. However, the oldest sections of the garden are looser and more productive than newer sections, so I know that all the additions are making a difference.

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