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Feeding the Soil

by | Feb 28, 2010

The secret of our success in farming
has been the feeding and care of our soil, as opposed to focusing on just
feeding plants. Continually adding organic matter (compost) to our gardens and
using organic fertilizers and minerals have made our soil stronger,
self-sustaining and healthier with each passing year.

You first must know that the reason
I focus my farming efforts around the soil is because of first hand experience.
Our home and garden have been in the Ziegler family since the 1940's, Steve and
I are the 3rd generation to call this home. Steve's grandparents had
established vegetable gardens on most of this property that produced a great
deal of the food for the family. As I like to say "Grandpa Ziegler was
composting and adding organic matter to these gardens long before composting
was cool!" Back in that time they used what was readily produced,
available and free, which typically meant animal manures, leaf mold and compost
from kitchen and garden waste. (The products we actual clamor for today!)

This was all driven home with me one
day when Steve and I had begun going through one of the outbuildings on our
property. In its previous life it had been a large chicken coop and now served
as storage to much of the families farming and orchard equipment no longer in
use. What we discovered helped me to understand why our gardens seem to grow
great stuff without much help from me. We found thousands of used large empty
plastic trash bags. I had no idea why his Grandfather saved these bags and what
had been in them until Steve shared it. His Grandfather had collected bags of
leaves for his garden. And having been raised during the depression times he
saved the empty bags for other uses. I can't tell you how this really made me
scratch my head and think he was on to something. You have to remember that
during this time the buzz wasn't all about going organic and organic matter as
it is today (which is really the way they used to garden before chemicals where
available.) He had added tons of organic matter during his life and the life of my garden.

This also happens to be the time
that I began reading about flower farming. The Flower Farmer book recommended
reading Eliot Coleman's book, The New Organic Grower. Eliot's book
explained in simple terms how the soil is the basis of farming, about soil
fertility, how to create it, and maintain it. 

We have followed his easy to follow
steps through the years and have reaped the benefits. In the first years of
farming I can tell you that ever crop change in a bed, I dumped 12-15 heaping wheel
barrel loads of compost per 70 x 3 beds. A lot of hard work that I can say was worth ever
step and shovel.

The regiment we follow is:

  • Annual soil testing in the fall. This is essential to
    monitor the PH of the soil. If your soil is to acidity or alkaline no
    matter what you add the soil will not be able to use it. We never add lime
    unless a soil test tells us we need it. In our experience that has one
    occurred twice in the past 12 years. Always test. Your local Co-op
    Extension office has soil test kits and it is very inexpensive ($8-12
  • Add 2-3" compost with each crop change out. In the
    spring before we plant, we top dress with compost, and work it into the
    top 3-6" of soil.
  • We add minerals per Eliot's book. On year one, two, six
    and every four years thereafter. The minerals used are Rock Phosphate and
    Green Sand. The recommended application depends on the state of your soil.
    He outlines it in easy to follow terms in his book. 
  • We also use organic fertilizers when needed for heavy
    feeder crops such as seabird guano, seaweed meal, kelp and fish fertilizers.
    Using organic fertilizers replenishes deplete minerals and makes your soil
    healthier with each use.
  • The more we feed our soil, the less it needs it in the
    future. A great example was the spring of 2009, a cold wet spring which
    means we had to wait to plant. Once the day came that it was warm and dry
    enough we just had to go for it and plant the thousands of plants that
    where way over due to be planted. We skipped the topdressing of compost
    and it was OK because our soil is so alive and healthily. We then used
    liquid organic fertilizers as a boost throughout the season and had tremendous
    crop production.
  • Here is our initial feeding of the soil broken down per
    100 sq. feet:

Limestone as needed

200 lbs of compost

10lbs Rock Phosphate

10 lbs Green Sand

Maintenance feeding in year two,
six, and ten:


Limestone as needed

100 lbs compost

2.5lbs Rock Phosphate

2.5lbs Green Sand

The bottom line is to prepare your
soil initially (see video Rocking will Save your Soil), never step on
the prepared beds which squeezes the life out of the soil, mulch to protect the
most precious gem in the garden, and continue to feed your soil each season or
crop change. Test annually to keep you on track and only use organic fertilizers.

You will be reaping the benefits in
every situation when you follow these steps.

Garden for the love of it!

Lisa Z

Watch TGW TV for more of my tips!

Visit my online Garden Shop for Organic Fertilizers