It All Starts With The Soil
If you are serious about having a productive garden / farm, knowing your soil type is very important. All of your hard work could be in vain if the quality of your soil is not optimized.
We were blessed and cursed with our soil type. Blessed because the soil is rich in organic matter, cursed because the pH of the soil is very alkaline, we sit on top of a large deposit of Florida field stone. We had our soil tested at the local county agricultural extension office and the pH was above 8.5, which is very high. In fact the pH was so high that the extension office could not even measure the nutrient levels in the soil. Most plants prefer a soil in the pH range of 6 to 7.5. I planted a garden anyway and to my surprise things actually grew.
It took me a while to figure out a solution and to locate the products necessary to move towards correcting the pH. The products available in the big box stores were very low in the minerals needed to lower the pH, not to mention expensive. I will tell you how we corrected the situation in just a few minutes.
The big breakthrough came when I had my soil tested by Quality Green Specialist, www.qualitygreenspecialists.com , Deland FL. By the time I got arround to testing I had already fixed the pH problem but the test was very revealing. The soil was extremely low in magnesium and potassium. The small amounts I did have was bound by the high calcium and therefore unavailable to the plants. It was an easy and inexpensive fix. The report and personal consultation gave me the exact amounts to apply for my size plot. What a difference it made! The test was only $50.00 and well worth it. By the way if you have citrus, they have a cure for citrus greening disease.
Turning your soil (tilling) can be tedious work if you are doing it using a shovel. We suggest that you search Craigslist if you don't own your own tiller. I have seen ads offering a price of ten cents per sq ft. for tilling services.
I no longer till my soil opting for the "Back To Eden" method. You should watch their free film at www.backtoedenfilm.com . This film radically changed my method of gardening.
TYPES OF SOIL
There are six main types of soil, knowing which you have is important. Our soil type is loamy. Loamy soils tend to be slightly acidic however that's not the case for our farm.
No matter what type of soil you start with your strategy should be to continue to build organic matter. In our case I had two truckloads of organic compost brought in. It took some time to spread it but that's what kids and their friends are for.
Six types of Soil: Loamy Soil, Sandy Soil, Chalky Soil, Peaty Soil, Silty Soil, Clay Soil
SOIL HEALTH - BUILD FERTILITY
Organic gardening is all about taking care of the soil. Your soil should be alive and full of beneficial microbes. Adding too much in the way of synthetic fertilizers can destroy the long-term viability of your soil. Beneficial microbes need organic matter for food, the application of too much synthetic fertilizer will make those microbes disappear, and other words the soil dies.
The organic approach is about the continued improvement of soil fertility and protecting the natural physical and biological processes that take place in a living soil. While it's not an exact science, adding plenty of organic matter and using organic friendly fertilizers to your soil quality should take care of itself.
Your strategy should be learning how to feed the soil so it will feed the plants. A living soil is full of earthworms, micro bacteria, fungi and numerous other microscopic interdependent organisms that released the nutrients that your plants can absorb.
SOIL pH - IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT
You should have your soil tested by your county agricultural extension office. The cost is insignificant, in our case five dollars. This is important because it tells you what your starting point is and what corrective steps you may need to take in order to have the ideal pH in your soil. Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients come from the soil. Before the nutrient can be used by plants it must be dissolved in the soil. Most of these minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in slightly acidic soils.
Decomposition of organic matter will tend to make the soil more acidic. Lime is typically used to increase soil pH, sulfur is typically used to decrease pH.
Soil pH should be checked at least yearly.
The word organic, applied to fertilize, means that the nutrients contained in the product comes solely from the remains of a once living or current living organism.
Organic fertilizers at big-box stores can be very expensive. But if you use the Back To Eden method you will need very little supplemental fertilizer once your soil is right. The fertilizer we use comes from organic compounds. We use this sparingly, I belive having too much organic matter can cause the application of fertilizer to have a limited effect on the soil quality.
A good source of organic fertilizer and organic matter can be obtained from animal waste, horse stables, chicken farms and rabbit farms to name a few. You do want to make sure that any hay that the animals are fed was not treated with herbicides. Those chemicals can pass through the animal and affect your garden.
I don't buy my fertilizer or soil amendments from big-box stores due to the cost. Instead I buy them from a farm supply store which saves a tremendous amount of money.
AZOMITE: AZOMITE® is a natural product mined from an ancient mineral deposit in Utah (USA) that typically contains a broad spectrum of over 70 minerals and trace elements, distinct from any mineral deposit in the world. Azomite is certified organic and can improve yields, plant vigor, production and vitamin and mineral content of your crops. I have not found Azomite in big box stores. You can order online but the product and shipping is expensive. Alternately you can use volcanic rock dust which i found to be less expensive.
BIOCHAR: Biochar is another name for activated charcoal used for agricultural purposes that is created from the pyfolysis of renewable plant materials.
Biochar is used to increase soil fertility, improve water quality, reduce soil emissions of greenhouse gases, reduce leaching of nutrients in the soil, and reduce soil acidity. Biochar is being investigated as an approach to carbon sequestration in the production of negative carbon dioxide emissions
Due to an enormous interior type space known as pore space or pore surface area, BioChar is a desirable home for many naturally occurring microbes. The microbes work with the BioChar . As the Cation attraction of the BioChar draws water, metals and nutrients into the char, the microbes eat enough of these to maintain a place to live. Since the BioChar does not break down or rot like sawdust, mulch, compost, peat or other woody biomass products, this BioChar/Microbe relationship is sustainable for hundreds of years.
Benefits include: Enhanced plant growth, reduction in fertilizer requirements, increases beneficial microbes, improves soil health, increases crop yields, just to name a few.
COMPOST: We compost everything, kitchen scraps, yard waste, garden scraps and the spent hay from the chicken coop. When I mow, I collect the grass and leaves and use it as mulch in the garden. I would caution using grass clippings if you use a weed and feed on your lawn.
DEVELOPING OUR SOIL AND GROWING ENVIRONMENT
Here is what we did to start our little eco system for our 3000 sq ft garden:
We added 2 truck loads of organic compost sourced from a local composter
We added a tote of biochar, about 2000 pounds.
We added about ten 50 lb bags of Azomite and volcanic rock.
We added about 250 pounds of Tiger 90CR slow release sulphur to lower the pH. This is 90% sulphur, the stuff you get at the big box stores is only 10% and it is expensive. It was hard to find locally but eventually I found it at a farm supply store. It was only $12.00 a bag. You can try calling Tiger to see if someone local carries the product, click HERE for their website.
We applied a generous amount of beneficial nematodes.
We released about 5000 lady bugs which are aggressive consumers of many soft bodied pests like aphids..
We released 10 pods of praying mantis egg sacks.