Some Poop On Soil

Picture 1062Throughout the summer we are asked about the soil here at the nursery. People look into the display beds or the vegetable gardens and will often have many questions about what we do to improve or condition the soil. First, we don’t really consider what we add to the soil as improving it ( yes, it actually is), but instead we like to think of it as ‘feeding the soil’. It’s a living thing……it needs feeding. We grow soil like we grow plants. We nurture it. We study it. We think about what it needs, and then we give it what it wants……poop, compost, rotted leaves, grass clippings, some seaweed, and any other helpful organic matter we can get our hands on. Because we have sheep, chickens, pigs, and once a diary cow, we have access to a lot of manure. This is helpful but not completely neccessary for soil enrichment. Since we raise the critters that we do, we are happy to have the benefit of animal manure. In addition, we also generate and use other forms of soil amendments, such as kitchen compost, grass, and leaves. We never really test the soil, and when people ask about this, we tell them about our approach to the soils needs and fertility. We pay attention to the weeds that are popping up. This can often be an indicator of the soil chemistry. For example, sorrel can often mean that your soil may be somewhat waterlogged or poorly drained, and acidic or low in lime. We do a bit of leaf analysis. Leaf color and overall vitality of the plant helps us to consider the soils fertility and what it may need to support the green growth above it. We smell the soil, we feel the soil…….and after years of being rather intimate with these things, you begin to understand and interpret the soil and its needs quite successfully, without ever having to do a soil test. Our very best advice is, if you want to grow good plants, start by growing good soil. Here at the nursery, we have stock piles of soil ‘food’ ( I consider these piles gold mines). We make great effort to utilize all the animal manures and vegetative material that is generated here at the farm. This has made a terrific difference in the health and fertility of our soil. I must admit, that I can get just as excited about sifting my fingers through the soil of a freshly turned bed in the spring, as I do picking that first sun ripened, fat and juicy tomato later in the season. We welcome the questions people have about soil and soil conditions. We do not claim to be experts in the field of soil, but we do feel that our gardens are an example of some things we may be doing right. Rick loves to talk about the native plants we grow and sell, and he has a firm handle on the soil conditions each plant prefers. I just love talking about soil, and I am glutton for any organic material that we can accumulate to feed the soil with. A pile of rotted leaves or a truck load of seaweed can be a very nice birthday gift. So, get to know your soil. Pay attention to the weeds and existing vegetation. Check out the soil color and its texture. Consider the soil fauna…..how many different bugs and worms do you find? Dig up a plant and examine its roots health and structure. Become your gardens own soil steward.
And feed your soil the things it needs to support the plants you grow. It will make all the difference!

8 comments on “Some Poop On Soil

  1. Thank you for your post on soil! I think it is the least understood topic for many gardeners and one of the most important keys to success. Of all of my evolving thoughts on gardening, working to promote the health of the soil has become the most important.

  2. Great post, Denise, because a lot of folks don’t really appreciate and understand soil. I’ve got a manure question – how long do you have to let your sheep manure sit before using it. I’m familiar with chicken and rabbit manure but not sheep. šŸ™‚

  3. Excellent advice. My experience is that your observations are underappreciated by the general gardening public. It’s too easy to go buy a bag of “soil” without considering the long range needs of our plants. Unfortunately most don’t have access to the raw materials that you do. Thanks for a helpful post..

  4. Wow–you really do understand your world. It’s so impressive, this approach you have. I am 100% clueless about it all and I know I need to learn more . . .

  5. One of the MANY annoyances with so-called ‘gardeners’ is that they not only shear anything that would like to spread out to cover the ground (as if we all want to see bare soil around ‘ground-cover’ plants), but because the soil is exposed, they must keep it raked. The big valley oaks really dislike that. They like the soil insulated with their own fallen foliage, and they like what leaches back into the soil from the foliage. They dislike landscaping, but if it is not watered too much, they at leas appreciate ground cover plants that absorb the debris where the so-called ‘gardeners’ can not remove it.

  6. Thanks for this very helpful and encouraging post! I love the idea of feeding the soil, rather than ‘improving’ it! I am planning to buy a brush cutter to chop up all the weeds on our farm and return them to the soil. I’m guessing that if this is done before they go to seed, we will not have such a severe problem of regrowth.

  7. Denise, Thanks for the tip on paying attention to the weeds. I noticed this year that common plaintain only grows at the top of my driveway near the entrance to the basement. I’ve concluded from that observation that this is a plant that likes high pH, since that is an area where I regularly use wood ash to provide traction on ice in the winter.

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