June 19, 2008

Time Now to Nourish Soil

The foundation of a good garden is its soil, and winter is the time to enrich it to prepare it for spring planting.

Layer on new, empty or dormant beds all the riches that can be found, such as:

Animal manure. Herbivores' manure is sweeter smelling. Bio- dynamicists treasure most that which comes from the gentle cow, which has been well digested in its four stomachs.

However, despite Canterbury's dairying boom, horse manure is easier to come by. Practical and diligent horse owners gather it before it affects the pasture's and the horses' health, and sell it or give it away on the roadside.

If you don't know a farmer, sheep droppings and pellets, with wool, are available from garden centres and landscaping-supply firms; or try poultry or pig manure, although it may pay to check its organic status.

Compost. A vast and often bewildering range of composts is available at landscaping-supply firms. Seek advice from the staff. Remember that the line between composts and mulches can be fine. It is easier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly to make your own compost, mixing kitchen scraps with weeds, leaves and clippings from the garden.

Seaweeds. Some of the fastest-growing plants, seaweeds are rich in minerals and nutrients. Don't worry about washing out the salts - rain and irrigation will take care of that.

Certain tides leave a fine, dark blend of twigs on the beach. This organic matter is good for lightening heavy soils, giving body to sandy ones, and using in seed-raising and potting mixes.

Peastraw. This is high in nitrogen, and when broken down as mulch, it improves soil structure and nutrient levels.

Pile it on

Whatever combinations you use, pile them in layers on the garden now. By spring they will have broken down enough to sustain the plants. Push away the surface debris to form holes to plant into, or clear to one side to find fine soil for seeds.

A similar method can be used to convert lawn to garden. Mow the lawn as short as possible, then cover with newspaper, five or six sheets thick, and a 30cm-thick layer of peastraw. Water, then leave until spring, when the soil can be dug over and planted. Other organic matter can also be added.


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