Caring for the Soil

Real Estate Agent with Rector Hayden, Lexington, Ky

soil preparation Yesterday I wrote about planning your garden and specifically where to plant on your lot.  Today I am beginning to write about preparing the soil.

The Humorist Dave Barry  once said,

"Your first job is to prepare the soil. The best tool for this is your neighbor's garden tiller. If your neighbor does not own a garden tiller, suggest that he buy one."


The fact is if you can turn your soil without tilling you will have a much healthier garden. Borrow a good shovel or spading fork but DO NOT borrow a  tiller.

Last fall when the leaves started falling I would rake them and pile them on the grass.  After a few weeks the leaves had killed the grass and then I began turning the soil with a shovel.  I was very careful to make sure the sod was turned all of the way under. 

I remember when my dad used to plow the field with a tractor.   The grass would be turned under and the soil exposed.  Then he used a harrow to break up the soil further.  The whole process was so much more gentle than tilling.  Tillers break the soil up so rapidly and violently killing the worms and microorganisms

 They also compact the soil.  A few years of tilling and you will have hardpan under your fluffy wormless soil.  Yes, it looks really good and if you use enough fertilizer and compost you can make it grow a good garden.  However you will have spent money on gas, your back will hurt worse than if you  used a spade and you will have polluted the air.  Rototillers, lawnmowers ect. all are much greater polluters than cars.

Even commercial farmers are getting away from tilling the soil. There is equipment that will prepare the soil with much less negative impact.  I have seen the Tortella works.  It digs deeper with a bunch of spades lifting the soil and therefore also is much healthier for the worms and microorganisms. If your garden is less than a 1500 square feet you can spade it in just a few hours in the evenings or on Saturdays.  The key to not wrecking your back is to work in small chuncks of time and stretch often.

Just a little side tracking here.  I have been an aerobic gardener for the past 30 years.  One really can get a workout in the garden.  When I work up a sweat I am filled with joy to see the results of my work.  It is very painful for me to work out and not see some tangible results.  If you want to learn more about this take a look at the web site Get Fit Through Gardening.

Putting leaves and other organic matter into your  soil is the key to getting your soil to be a happy home for your plants.  The plants you see in these pictures were grown in soil that had just a few months of preparation with leaves and some home grown composts.  

If you don't have leaves then you may need to get some compost from a garden center or make your own. Here are several web sites that can teach you everything you ever wanted to know about composting.

In a future blog entry I will write about adding organic fertilizers to the soil.  These are the nutrients that really do work like magic in your garden.

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