More than just Dirt

Worked in the garden today. Had to get those seedlings I purchased earlier this week into the ground!

As I was prepping the beds for their new residents, I noticed how dark, rich and loamy my soil has become. To some of you, good dirt is something probably taken for granted, but here on the coast of Florida, quality soil is a very rare commodity.

While the soil in my beds is far from perfect, in a world where most soil is trucked here in bags, I’m extremely happy with my results so far. It holds moisture well, clumps up and holds its shape when squeezed by hand, and, judging from my yields so far, has plenty of nutrients in it.


In the beginning…

Starting from zero, I had two options – pay the big box stores $5 per cubic yard for bagged soil of unknown origin, or make my own as I went along from sources I trusted. Being the paranoid I am (“they put WHAT into that compost they are selling?”), and a DIY kind of guy, I opted to make my own.

Doing research on Florida gardening, I found raised beds were my best option, as it gave me some protection for nematodes as well as allowed me to have improved soil that I could move, if needed. Further research consistently pointed to one man and his book, Mel Bartholomew and All New Square Foot Gardening. His recommendations for soil are a simple mix of composted manure, peat moss, and vermiculite.

Vermiculite is expensive. I’m not in this to spend a lot of money, I’m trying to grow food! Why does he call for vermiculite? Water retention? Hmmmm….No problem – omit vermiculite and use a timer for watering in order to prevent drying out! Voila! I have MY mixture! A simple 50/50 mix of peat moss and composted horse manure!

So I made a few phone calls and wrote a couple emails. Eventually I found a friend that not only had what I was looking for, they had LOTS of it, and needed it removed in order to make room for more! WOOHOO! What would make me excited at this point?

Horse manure. Old, dried, piled up horse manure. Lots of it! And even better, it was located where I could back right up to where I could load it directly into my truck!

I was on my way to having DIRT! Or at least something that would pass as dirt until I nurtured it into life.

My plan was simple, a large bale of peat moss mixed with a 55 gallon drum of composted horse manure. Add in handful of organic compost to kick start the process of bringing the soil to life, and I was on my way!

My first bed was built, filled with my  inoculated “soil” mixture, covered with mulch hay (more water retention!) and watered liberally. Once all that was done, seeds went in, and I HAD A GARDEN! It grew wonderfully, producing 14+ foot Mammoth sunflowers, icicle radishes the size of turnips, and enough basil to make 5 gallons of pesto! Watered three times a day, the bed flourished. As the plants died back, I’d add the dead plants back to the mulch cover. I would also add all compostable  kitchen scraps right to the soil.

Fast forward 10 months. Today, I have WONDERFUL soil, all made with my own efforts and resources. The soil is teeming with life, worms, beetles, etc all much to the joy of my chickens. In fact, the chicken attraction factor has forced me to fence the chickens out with bird netting, in order to keep the chickens from scratching everything up!

This can be done on a small scale. A Rubbermaid tub is  enough space to start a small salad plot. Add in a 50/50 mix of peat moss and composted manure, and keep adding to it as you grow food in it!

The tub below has been providing mixed greens for over 6 weeks from a single planting! We’ve harvested a cut salad (for four) once a week for 9 weeks, all from 1/10 of a packet of seeds!Soon, I will turn the soil, add in some more compost materials (kitchen scraps), mulch it again, and re-seed it, starting the process all over again! Soil building (and salad harvesting) all on a small scale!

You CAN do this! Drop me a line if you have questions, or post below. When it comes to helping you to learn to grow your own food, I got your back!



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    1. As long as you provide credit and sources back to me, I have no issue. While the writing is mine, most of the ideas are not original. And let’s face it, for most of the things I write about (no ALL!), if everyone was doing it, this world would be a FAR better place….

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