Saturday, February 13, 2010

Composting and Gardening, part 3

I live in what's known as "Middle Tennessee."  I also live in the land of clay rather than soil.  Starting a new garden is a big of a challenge, but it can be done... and this is how I did it!

The first thing you need to do is get a soil ph test.  If you have soil that is too acidic or alkaline, your plants aren't going to grow to their fullest potential.  You can usually get soil sample kits from your county extension office.  They will also tell you what you should do to change the ph to a more optimum level for what you intend to plant.  There are also so pretty cool soil testing gizmos on the market.  I own one, but I'm not sure how much I trust it.

There are a few ingredients you will need:
Cardboard or newspapers
A gardening rake
Top Soil
Peat Moss
A tiller

Once you know where your garden will be placed, you will most likely need to kill off the grass.  This is easily accomplished by laying down a layer of cardboard or newspapers.  Wetting the covering will help keep them from flying away in the wind.  A few bricks can be helpful, too.  If you lay down your covering on Monday, you will probably be ready to compose your garden by the weekend.  You don't need to kill all the grass, but every bit helps. 

I should also remind you to make sure there are no water or power lines in your garden space.  This could cause some serious issues.

Fast forward a few days and you are ready to mix up your ingredients. 
The easiest way to get started is to till up the existing soil.  Remove any rocks, or if you live in my old house- bricks and other construction waste.  If you hit any roots, those can be easily removed with a small saw. 

There are two ways you can go about this next step.  You can mix your top soil and peat moss together in a large container or make lasagna.  Peat moss usually comes in a large bail but breaks up in a fine dust similar to saw dust.  It's hard to control and this is why I like to mix it into the top soil.  If you decide to go lasagna style, it helps to wet down the peat a bit after to put it on the ground just to give it a bit of control. 

I don't have a set ratio of top soil to peat, but I suppose you could do 25% peat and 75% topsoil.  The gardening rake comes in super handy with making sure the each layer or your mix is spread out evenly over your plot.  I like to use enough mix to make a good inch or so layer on top of your tilled earth.

Till 'er up!

The type of garden you are constructing will dictate how far you go.  Just general run of the mill garden or flower bed will benefit from a good dosage of compost.  If you are doing a woodland/shade garden, you'll want to till in a healthy layer of compost and dried leaves.  A garden full of lavender (my favorite!) will require sand mixed in. 

I like to till, rake out any clumps and even everything out, then till again.  I might repeat this a few times just to make sure everything is well mixed. 

You are free to plant right away, but I found it to be a bit more effective to give everything a large gulp of water and plant the next day.  If you get the ground too soggy, you might need to wait an extra day or so to let it drain out. 

One final note:  Mulch is your friend!  It took me a whole year to learn this lesson.  Keep in mind that different types of mulch might change your soil ph.  You aren't limited to just wood chips- straw is a great cover- so don't be afraid to cover everything up.  This will save you a ton of water and backache!

Happy Gardening!


A Baby Peach said...

Thanks for all the tips about this stuff!!! I really want to do this this Spring, but I'm so afraid to start for some reason. I think I want to do a raised bed or something, but I'm not sure. I have to figure out where around my house to do it, too b/c the backyard is out b/c of hte we'll see!

Herrien said...

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