The Dirt on Soil

Tending your soil is the most fundamental thing you can do as a successful organic gardener. This article is intended to give you some suggestions on how to prep your garden plot for the 2014 season.

When all the individual gardens in the PGP network are new we provide an organic mix from Lake Street Supply and individual gardeners are responsible for filling their plot. Mark Moxley, owner of Lake St. Supply has been a great partner to Peterson Garden Project. In addition to providing quality materials and services (he’s one of our partners at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show!), Mark led classes over this past winter to help educate our community on ongoing soil health and maintenance. He’s provided some tips below on how to support your soil on an ongoing basis. But first, a few things you should consider:

  1. If you are new to Peterson Garden Project you will be inheriting someone else’s plot and their soil. There’s no way to determine what they have done (or haven’t done) to the soil
  2. Previous gardeners may not have filled the plot to the top with soil or the soil may have settled over the drastic winter. For optimal vegetable growing success, plots need to be full so plan on adding a bag or two of organic compost to get the soil level with the top. You can purchase compost at a local garden center or at Lake St Supply. We will also have some nice compost available at our annual Plant & Bake Sale Mother’s Day Weekend. Whatever you buy, make sure it is organic!
  3. When filling the bed, previous gardeners may have shoveled soil when it was wet – this is not  ideal  because it compacts the precious air pockets that are part of good, friable soil. If your soil is hard, this could be a reason for that. You’ll want to amend it with compost.
  4. Even if your plot is full to the top, that doesn’t mean other amendments might not be beneficial – compost, worm castings and coffee grounds, gently scratched into the surface of the soil (don’t turn the soil!) will be beneficial to your garden
  5. As you plant your transplants, an organic, granular fertilizer or a handful of rich compost can be worked into the soil at the bottom of the planting hole.

We’ll be providing more info on how to prep your bed so stay tuned! In the meantime, here’s some helpful tips from Lake Street Supply.

  1. Remember that good compost is a virtual cure-all for soil problems. Monthly side-dressing is a great way to continually improve soil.
  2. Growing food removes nutrients from the soil faster than most other types of growing, so be sure to add fertility at least once per year. Think like organic farmers, who understand the realities of science. Use only organic fertilizer or compost to achieve this goal.
  3. Never rototill or “turn” your soil; this is a practice performed only by knuckleheads. Tilling destroys soil structure and kills beneficial microorganisms.
  4. Respond appropriately to problems. Too many beginners lose their season by waiting too long to respond to signs of trouble. Take a few digital images and email them to an experienced gardener. Do not wait unless advised to do so. Also, if you lose your crop, start over with a summer or fall vegetable.
  5. Never walk on your soil. Compaction of soil by foot traffic will harm your plants and permanently hinder success.
  6. Be mindful of your garden. Make written notes or take photos monthly. Note which plants do well and which ones do not. Use these notes to generate continued learning. The best growers are mindful of their craft.

Please comment with any questions you may have!