Each spring I get a lot of questions about soil. How do I prepare my soil in the spring? What amendments do I use? The soil beneath our feet is full of living organisms and is known as the soil web. Each organism in the soil lives in conjunction with another. Remove one and the system breaks. For example, what would we do without earthworms? Not only are they food for some birds but they tunnel the soil and improve aeration. They also add nutrients to the soil with their excrement. I strongly believe that we need to learn to use what we have on hand in our gardens. Whether it’s the wood chips from pruning trees to the leaves that cover our lawns in the fall, both are high in nutrients. Below I will show you how we try to manage our soil.
This is not top soil. The soil from the garden centre is manufactured. It’s good to ask questions before ordering soil. Let them know what you are using it for. Much of the soil is made of bark, compost, manure and green waste. Choosing the right one for your plants is key. Ask your soil supplier where it comes from and what’s in it.
Each fall we run the lawnmower over fallen leaves to shred them. They are placed back on the gardens to protect the soil from our heavy winter rains. Rain is very detrimental to the soil and can destroy soil structure. If you have a sloped garden you know how much soil can be lost if you don’t have it covered with plant material.
Shredded leaves look like this in the fall. They add nutrients to the soil, prevent soil loss, protect overwintering plants and provide a home for overwintering insects. Add an inch or two of leaves to your soil surface. Extra leaf mulch can be stored in bags or wire bins to be used as mulch during the heat of the summer. No leaves in your garden? Ask a neighbour for some.
By the time you plant in the spring your leaf mulch will look like this. Its not quite broken down but it doesn’t have to be. Seeds will grow well through this leaf mulch.
This leaf mulch has decomposed over the winter and can be planted with seeds or plants. Leave the mulch on the soil. Do not dig your garden over as it destroys life under the soil that is working to keep it healthy.
Often when you are starting to plant in the spring you will see white thread like fungi in the soil. This is a good thing. Mycorrhizae plays an important role in plant life. The tiny threads you see in the soil supply nutrients to plant roots and the plants give the fungus nutrients in return. This is called a symbiotic relationship. This is why double digging is no longer recommended. You want this fungus in the soil.
There are two types of fertilizers: synthetic and organic. I use slow release organic fertilizers because they are made from natural ingredients. Organic materials such as blood meal, cotton seed meal, feather meal, bone meal, rock phosphate, glacial rock dust and bat guano are a few natural ingredients that come to mind. A synthetic fertilizer is detrimental to soil organisms. It makes the soil lazy in that nitrogen fixing nodules don’t need to form on plant roots so nitrogen fixing slows down. Synthetic fertilizer contains salts which are harmful to the soil over long periods. Use of synthetic fertilizer slows the uptake of water by plant roots. I add organic fertilizer to my beds at planting time and may give one more boost in mid summer. Organic fertilizer is released slowly over the growing season. I also add compost to the garden in the spring. All you need is a thin layer over the surface of the soil.
Once you have the soil amended your crops will do well. This is what you should expect to see by early summer, a healthy bed of nutritious vegetables ready for harvest.