What to Amend Garden Soil WithCompost, compost, compost, compost. Did I mention compost? Compost is by far the best soil amendment you will ever find. The best compost is typically what you create yourself. Bagged and bulk compost can be found at most garden centers, and all of it might be very high quality compost, but it's not as good as what you can make yourself. Whether you use a conventional compost pile, or worm composting, compost will improve the structure of the soil, balance soil pH, improve drainage, and add organic matter. This is very important for developing healthy soil which in turn can result in less pests, less plant diseases, and an overall better vegetable garden. Amending your garden soil with high quality organic matter in the early Spring is the best way to get your vegetable garden started off on the right foot.
Composted ManuresYou can also amend the garden soil with cow, horse, donkey, or goat manures (make sure the manure comes from a herbivore, not carnivores). It is best to use these manures after they have composted for at least six to nine months minimum. Adding fresh manures can lead to problems because of high ammonia levels. The high levels of ammonia found in fresh manure can result in burned plants, so if the manure has an ammonia smell, make sure to compost it before using. Even if you can't smell any ammonia, it's always best to compost it first.
Rabbit ManureRabbit manure is one of the best manures to use for vegetable gardens. It has a high percentage of nutritional value, it's easy to use, and it is safe to use fresh. You can sprinkled rabbit manure around your plants and not worry about it burning your plants as long as you use it in moderation. It is also a fantastic soil amendment. If you own some rabbits then you should definitely be putting their poo to good use in your vegetable garden. If you do not own any, it is worth your while to find a good source of it. Check with local pet stores, or rabbit breeders in your area. They will probably be glad to give you all the rabbit poo you want. Take some caution with pet stores and make sure the rabbit poo isn't mixed with unwanted animal poo (like dogs and cats). If it's not 100% rabbit poo do not accept it.
Alfalfa and Comfrey as a Soil AmendmentAlfalfa and comfrey are both plants that have some special properties, and can be added to garden soil to improve organic matter and nutritional content. Alfalfa contains a chemical called triacontanol which is a plant growth stimulant. The best form of alfalfa to use in the vegetable garden is alfalfa meal that is mixed with compost at a rate of 12 parts compost to 1 part alfalfa meal. Alfalfa can also be brewed into a tea that is feed to vegetable plants once every three to four weeks. Comfrey is another plant that is used as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Comfrey has the ability to store many nutrients, especially potassium, in its leaves. This makes comfrey a very valuable plant fertilizer in itself. The leaves can be chopped and added to the soil, or brewed into a tea. When adding chopped comfrey leaves to the soil they can be added directly to the planting holes, or broadcast and worked into the garden soil. The use of comfrey tends to be a bit more popular in Europe than in the Unites States. I have never used comfrey myself, but many of my gardening friends in the UK rave about the awesome results from using comfrey with their tomatoes, corn, and summer squash.
How to Amend Garden SoilAmending garden soil is really pretty easy. Simply broadcast the soil amendment (mainly compost mixed with alfalfa meal and sometimes rabbit manure) across the garden area that needs to be amended. Usually this is a layer of compost anywhere between three and six inches deep. I like to use either a garden hoe, or a steel rake and begin working the soil amendment into the soil using a quick chopping action. Continue this across the area until the soil amendment has been worked into the top three to four inches of soil. Continue this process as many times as you possibly can. The more compost you can amend into the soil, the better. It works best for me to add a small three to six inch layer of compost and work that in than dumping a very thick layer of compost and working that in. Working a little bit in at a time seems to have the best results for distributing the soil amendment evenly. There really is no scientific formula to this; it's just a simple matter of adding as much organic matter throughout your garden soil as possible. Concentrate the soil amendments to the area where you are going to plant. There's no point in amending the soil where a path is, or will be. Concentrate the organic matter where it counts most and will have the most benefit.
Replenish Mycorrhizal FungiIf you do a fair amount of cultivating and tilling when preparing the garden soil, you may want to replenish the natural myccohrrizal fungi. Myccohrrizal is a naturally occurring fungi in soil that grows and attaches to plants roots. This special bond between the mycorrhizal fungi and plant roots help the plant to take up nutrients and moisture. Think of the mycorrhizal fungi as root extenders - they actually connect to the plant roots and make it as if the plant had longer roots. This root extension greatly increases the plant's ability to absorb macro and micro nutrients. Unfortunately, cultivating destroys the mycorrhizal fungi ecosystem and their numbers diminish. If you till, or cultivate your garden soil you definitely want to replenish the mycorrhizal fungi. You can purchase mycorrhizal fungi in a tablet form that is placed beneath the plant at planting time. You can also purchase it in a shaker that can be sprinkled across the vegetable garden before planting.
Homemade Soil ConditionerAnyone that has heard of Jerry Baker knows he is famous for his homemade garden tonics and remedies. There are many opinions and debates about whether his recipes for homemade garden tonics really work, or are a bunch of rubbish. One of his tonics that I have used the past few years is one that is said to "awaken" the soil. Basically, it helps to feed the soil microbes and supercharge the soil (according to Mr. Baker). The recipe is as follows: 1 can of beer 1 cup of ammonia 1 cup of alfalfa meal 1/2 cup dishwashing liquid 1/2 cup molasses, or corn syrup Mix the ingredients well in a bucket with three gallons of water. Pour the mixture into a hose end sprayer. Set the hose end sprayer to about 1.6 ounces per gallon. Spray tonic mixture a couple times on garden soil before planting in Spring at two week intervals. Mr. Baker's tonic does not call for the alfalfa meal. That is something I added myself. I can't really say I have seen a huge improvement in my vegetable garden using the tonic, but it hasn't hurt it either.
Amending the Garden Soil for Better ResultsAs you can see amending the garden soil in early Spring is very important and also very easy. It truly doesn't take much to get your vegetable garden off to a great start when you take care of the soil first.
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