Well, the rains have started.  All of the garden cisterns are already topped up–that’s thousands of gallons!  So what am I doing when I can’t force myself out into the rain?  I’m spending some time reading and one of the books I picked up is Secrets to Great Soil by Elizabeth P. Stell which is a very readable and easy to follow book about soil amendments and compost building.   As I mentioned in my last blog, I am increasing the height of many of my vegetable beds to make life a little better for my soil challenged plants, but I’m going to need a bit of soil to fill those beds.  I also remember reading somewhere that one should “Feed the soil, not the plant” so I thought I would hone my soil building skills.

It was dry a couple of days ago, so off we went and filled the back of the truck with leaves which, when unloaded, compressed nicely into a two foot diameter by four foot high wire cage.  That’s all!  And because it’s too wet to cut the leaves with the mower, it will be two years before I use them as mulch.  I’ve already secured manure–currently under tarps–a fair trade for some bottles of stout.  I have ‘chicken chips’ which is the litter from the girls and from the summer meat birds.  And I can’t forget the compost I’ve been working on for months; two out of three bins  are full of ‘almost done’ compost.  There’s also seaweed, which is readily available just down the road, but I am a little more cautious about how much I add to my beds now.  Every year I get a little too much in one of the beds and then end up with Jack and the Bean Stalk sized plants–just massive stalks–but no flowers or fruit!

I know all this soil building will be worth it, because a couple of years ago I harvested potatoes from an allotment I tend.   Half of the potatoes were planted in a bed that had received generous amendments, and the other half were planted in a bed that had only received light amendments.  Identical potatoes, identical planting date and identical exposure with plantings that were less than 15 feet apart.  The difference in the size of the potatoes was amazing.  Many of the potatoes in the amended bed were over 1 pound in size whereas the potatoes not planted in the bed were quite small.  They were all good potatoes but it was obvious that the yield from the more improved soil way outstripped the marginal soil.

So, why work harder all season planting and tending more plants, when a little bit of soil building now will provide higher yields and maybe more time for sitting on that garden bench next summer.

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