Gardening isn’t a topic we’ve really discussed yet, but we thought that we would introduce it on our blog today because spring is in the air, and we think we’d like to start a garden this year after all! In this post, we’d like to share how we’re getting started with the progress by improving our clay soil.
Although we’re not very knowledgeable about gardening (despite already having a year of experience with a community garden) we believe that one of the first steps to having a successful garden is amending your soil to ensure that plans will be able to grow in it. As you will will in our last roundup video, we’ve been pretty busy with our gardening plans the last month!
We love our five acre property… it’s just about perfect for our needs! However, we were blessed with rocky / clay / loam soil as seen below. The forest doesn’t look like this, but the flat spot sure does which is where we’d like to start our garden!
In the past few weeks, we’ve accomplished what we think are five important steps in the soil amending process and we want to share what those are with you!
Here are all of the steps in two different videos, and/or keep reading to receive the steps in blog-format!
Our Steps to Amending Clay Soil for Successful Planting
1. Bring in topsoil.
If you have natural high-quality soil on your property, topsoil is not a necessity. However, the soil in the area where we plan to have our garden is extremely hard, compact, and filled with rocks.
Rather than try to dig out the rocks and loosen the soil, we decided it would be easier to bring in some topsoil from our local supplier. The topsoil was fairly inexpensive and allowed us to create smooth, raised beds where the plants in our garden can stay warm and get access to the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
Based on our research, this should work its way into the compact soil over time. We’re hoping that is the case but if not, live and learn!
2. Bringing in Compost
Compost is an extremely nutrient-dense material that can help the plants in your garden thrive, especially if you plan to grow vegetables like we do. It’s doable to make compost on your own using fairly simple ingredients, but the process is time-consuming and we wanted to get the soil in our garden amended quickly in order to start planting as soon as possible.
We bought our compost from a local supplier in our area; it’s sold at most nurseries and garden supply stores. It was marginally more expensive than the topsoil we purchased, but was still relatively cheap, especially since our garden plot is not very large.
Once we brought our compost home, we mixed it in with our topsoil to create a rich environment where our plants can absorb additional nutrients.
3. Making our own biochar
Biochar is a type of charred material made by burning scraps and other natural waste in a low-oxygen environment. When added to soil, it helps to aerate the soil as well as retain water and nutrients for a longer period of time.
However, because biochar acts like a sponge for nutrients, it can rob nutrients from your plants and keep them from reaching their full potential. For that reason, biochar should be ‘charged‘ before putting it into your garden. One way this can be done is to place the biochar into compost for a couple of weeks where it should soak up plenty of nutrients and therefor, won’t rob any from your plants.
Because we don’t have any plants in our garden yet, we added the biochar directly into our soil so it can absorb nutrients from the compost before our veggie are planted. Based on internet research it seems that approximately one pound of biochar can / should be added to your soil for every ten pounds of soil in your garden.
Biochar can be made very simply by people even in urban or suburban areas. The newest addition to our homestead toolkit is known as the BioCharlie, which you can place directly into your stove or wood fireplace in order to burn matter into biochar.
We filled our BioCharlie with scraps from around our property such as bones, kindling, twigs, and sticks. After having the BioCharlie in our wood stove for an evening, we pulled it out and in it was beautiful biochar to be placed into our garden. It’s a satisfying experience, really!
4. Starting a Compost Pile
In order to start generating a continuous supply of compost to strengthen our garden soil, we started our own compost pile. Compost piles are great for the environment and are really quite simple to get started. We started one right by our garden, but if youre limited on space for some reason, you could buy a neighborhood-friendly compost tumbler.
The main components you need to get a compost pile started are sources of nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen sources include the food scraps (among other things) so we usually throw in banana peels, coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable peels, and other waste into the pile on our property. Carbon sources include sawdust, dried leaves, sticks, and other similar materials, which we can easily gather around our property on a daily basis.
One thing to remember is that you should never put animal products into a compost pile because they can attract animals as well as create a pungent and lasting stench around your compost pile.
We hope that we’ll have some finished compost created by the end of summer . This will be very gratifying to include in our garden.
5. Laying down a layer of mulch.
The final step we’ve taken to prepare our clay soil for gardening was laying down a layer of mulch. I know a lot of you have heard and are excited about the Back to Eden gardening method… we watched the video and the idea makes sense, and mulch is just a great idea, so we mulched the garden!
As you’ll see in the video below about our mulching, we took the “use what we have” approach rather than picking a mulch that isn’t readily available for us. For this reason, we decided to go with pine.
In the video at the beginning of the article (or watch it here!), I’ll explain why we’re not worried about the acidity. In the end, it’s really just a live and learn experience and if we need to make changes later, we will do so accordingly.
Summing it Up: Here’s to Our First Garden!
We’re very excited about the progress we’re making on our sustainable, off-grid homestead. We can’t wait to get our first plants or seeds into the ground, and are simply excited that we’ve started the gardening process! This isn’t our primary goal of the year, so any progress we make on the garden we’ll be happy about, even if we don’t get around to planting, hah!
As you can hopefully see from our experience, starting your own garden doesn’t have to be a huge project. It’s all about breaking it down into manageable baby steps, and not expecting perfection right out of the gate! Gardens evolve over time. Here’s to moving forward and celebrating progress!
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