Improving Soil

This is a follow-up from yesterday’s post, DIY Self Watering Containers.

When I first started gardening here in Florida, the sugar sand had me beat. Too loose to hold anything, it would take many tons of organic matter to improve just my back yard. I eventually opted to use raised beds, and make my own soil from scratch. You can read about the process here called “More than just Dirt”.

Since then, from time to time, I’ve had to amend what I’ve already created, partly due to settling and erosion, and partly to maintain a high quality, vibrant soil. Using what I had at hand, I’ve been able to maintain my raised beds without buying soil. (I agree with Debra on this one!) In fact, it has probably even been improved over my initial success, since I continually add a large variety of nutrients to “feed” my soil.

My process is simple. I let a bed go dormant, then use it as a dump station for my kitchen scraps, using the same criteria as if I were composting – no meats or fats, and no chemicals. This includes fruits or vegetables from questionable sources – if I think it may have been chemically treated, I don’t add it to the pile.

Once I’ve dumped a load of kitchen scraps, I call in the work crew- my chickens. They claw through it, scratch, scrape, and break everything down. Then they add their own waste to the pile, and continue to scratch, scrape, mix, and poop. Once everything has been broken down, I put of a fence around the bed, then add the secret ingredient.

Rabbit manure

You see, I have rabbits. At times, I have LOTS of rabbits, considering I only have a 1/4 acre of land. And putting a 50 pound bag of feed into a pile of rabbits tends to produce almost a 50 pound bag of rabbit poop. SO I have all this quality manure that I need to do something with….so I use it as filler on top of my beds to replace soil and nutrients.

Once the net is up, I’ll put a 3-4 inch layer of month-old rabbit manure on top of my chicken-worked raised bed. The manure is collected from beneath my rabbit cages, and also contains bits of hay and straw. I’ll water it daily for a week to let it settle and to start any hay seeds to sprout, then let the chickens in for a few days to stir things up one last time and pick over the sprouted hay seeds.

My soil

Once it looks to be adequately stirred up, I put the fence back up, rake it all level, and put in my plants or seeds. After planting, I mulch everything with loose hay to help retain moisture. The new top layer of  soil has been worked over twice, and enough of the lower layer has been worked in to inoculate it with the microbes already at work. My living soil has been perpetuated!

Since I never till my beds, I can stick my arm into the soil as though it were a sponge cake. The ecosystem that is my soil never gets disturbed, so it never has to restart. This leaves me with a thriving garden, just add plants (or seeds).

Sweet potatoes and mammoth sunflowers in a freshly prepared bedNow I won’t lie to you and say it’s all perfect, and I don’t get weeds from time to time. I do, but since I feed my rabbits with things I can forage for them, any “weed” that I recognize as potential rabbit food I will allow to grow a bit. The garden doesn’t just feed my family, it also feeds my animals from time to time. Why waste all that effort a plant puts into getting established, when I can put it into the feed rotation for the rabbits that will ultimately feed my family? I call that a win-win.

And what better way to complete the circle of life?

Peace,
db

 

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2 comments:

  1. I wish I had some rabbits but the wife says no – actually she said hell no – so I take that as meaning maybe. I’m collecting a couple of bags of cow patties from Miller’s cow pasture tomorrow and using that to enrich my soil. It’s free and there’s certainly lots of it.

    Thanks for the post and memory jog.

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