How to Grow: Soil

Learn about getting your soil ready for planting this spring.

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Soil, Hand, Farm, Garden, Fertilizer, Compost, Organic

I’m Charlie Nardozzi and this is the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio. Let’s get down and dirty about soil. First we should understand that soil is alive.

What makes soil more than just dirt are the millions of bacteria, fungi and microorganisms that populate our land. Their activity allows for water and nutrients to flow freely  to our plants. So we should feed the beast and organic matter is the food.

This time of year we should add well decomposed organic matter in the form of compost. For low fertility gardens add a 2-to 3-inch thick layer and work it into the top few inches of soil.

For higher fertility gardens, a simple 1 inch layer will do. Long term, get in the practice of adding untreated grass clippings, cover crops, straw and chopped leaves to your garden beds to build fertility. Add these in fall to allow the microbes to break them down before spring planting.

Your soil is also loaded with essential minerals. Now is a good time to do a soil test to determine if and what to add to balance your soil’s mineral needs. While most soils in Vermont are high in phosphorous and adding more just ends up running off into our waterways, potassium and minor elements are sometimes deficient. Look to add slow release, organic amendments such as greensand or wood ashes for potassium.

Be careful with wood ashes because they also raise the pH. Work in about 20 pounds of wood ash per 1000 square feet of garden on soils with pH below 7. Most gardens should have between 6.5 and 7.0 pH for best plant growth. Some soils may be deficient in micro nutrients such as manganese. Adding organic rock dusts, like Azomite, is a good way to add these nutrients without causing imbalances.

From the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio.

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