Playing in the dirt

Each year, we gardeners enjoy picking out the flowers and vegetable crops we want to grow, we have fun growing plants from seeds and the process of tending our gardens throughout the season. But one thing we often neglect is the soil. It's just kind of "there" for planting purposes and it's easy to forget that it needs to be built up each year.

There are a lot of vegetable crops that are heavy feeders -- plants like corn, tomatoes, squash and such -- so the areas where they grew last year are probably depleted of some very important nutrients.

My husband Bill and I have really been focusing on our soil's fertility this spring. We had a lot of materials that we decided to run through our chipper/shredder (see below). This included several bags of leaves raked up last fall, trimmings from the garden and plant remnants from tidying up the flower beds.

Here's the chipper/shredder and a pile of shredded materials.
I was so excited about running the leaves through the shredder because that is good stuff, let me tell you! It's a perfect soil amendment and makes a good mulch in beds, too. The simple act of shredding something creates a lot of cut surfaces that beneficial microbes can latch onto and speed up the decomposition process.

Even if you don't have a chipper/shredder (and I realize not many do), you can always use your lawn mower and run over leaves because that will serve the same purpose.

In addition to our shredding project, we also emptied our compost bin which our 4 chickens have access to. It contained a mixture of kitchen scraps that hadn't finished decomposing, more plant remnants, and a bit of free chicken manure.

Bill recently made us a new compost screen (see photo to left, it's on top of the wheelbarrow) so we went through the majority of the compost pile yesterday and pushed the good stuff through the screen. At that point, we mixed in 3 parts shredded leaves and other materials and started topping off each of our raised beds.

Now that is good stuff!
What with the rain we got yesterday and Friday, I decided not to stir up the soil so, for now, these wonderful materials are just sitting on top of each bed. About a week ago, we also added some well-composted steer manure to most of the beds (I don't use it for carrots, parsnips, onions or potatoes) so I'm hoping each bed's soil will have excellent fertility this year. We should be able to tell once we see how the various crops are growing later in the season. I'll let you know!

By the way, we put a compost thermometer into our pile of shredded leaves, etc. and as you can see, it's reading at about 132 degrees! Wow. It'll tell you, decomposition happens so much more quickly when you shred your materials.

As always, remember that you can click on any photo on my blog to view a more detailed image.