The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Reader Poll: How Do You Maintain Soil Fertility?

March 11th, 2010 · 7 Comments · Posted in garden

We are always making compost

We are always making compost

Farmers and gardeners alike must deal with the same fact of nature: crops draw nitrogen and other essential nutrients out of the soil. Those nutritients must be replaced in order to continue growing crops into the future.

In bygone days, before the advent of factory-made fertilizers, farmers addressed the question of maintaining soil fertility by spreading manure. Or, you looked for a new parcel of land when your soil was used up.

But how about us urban farmers? What are we supposed to do if we want to grow food organically? Me, I make compost like crazy from everything I can get my hands on: leaves in the fall, straw from the farm supply, grass clippings foraged from neighors, kitchen scraps, horse manure from a local riding stable. Still, it never seems to be enough. Or is it? How much compost do I need to apply each season–or with each crop–to ensure that I am maintaining a fertile soil into the future?

What’s your answer? That’s today’s readers poll. What do you add to your soil to keep it fertile, and how much? You can leave your answer as a comment, or send me an e-mail.

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  • Amy

    We’re just starting to farm an 8 parcel piece of land. We are doing a few passive solar greenhouses and a lot of open field.

    Our plan is use a bit of new technology and combine it with old world know how. The new technology is greenhouse plastic. The particular plastic we use creates diffused light so that low growing plants (green manure cover crops) can thrive when planted between tall growing plants like our tomatoes and peppers.

    The green manure (legume cover crops) fix nitrogen on their roots. The plan is to allow them to grow and then come through with a sod cutter to kill the plant. The plant has to die for the nitrogen to be released into the soil.

    We’ll be doing this both inside our greenhouses and in the field crops.

    When we rotate the crops we’ll plant where the cover crop has been growing and grow cover crop where the plants have been growing.

  • Amelia

    The former occupant of my community garden plot worked at a nursery, so the soil had really been well cared for. Very very nutrient rich. So I decided to go one more year without doing too much, except adding compost where I need to build up the bed.

  • KS

    What is the device on top of your garbage can?

    I make compost, but not enough for the amount of gardening I like to do so I add lots of composted manure to my garden.

  • espringf

    I am not liking growing compost crops in my garden beds. It’s just too hard to get them back out of the soil! I am contemplating growing dedicated compost crops (destined for the compost bin) over our septic drain field. Can’t garden there, but growing what is essentially grass and clover should be fine.

  • drewguy

    KS – that looks like an electric leaf grinder–see the cord coming out the window?

  • Pattie

    Ed: In addition to my compost pile, I have two compost tumblers and a worm bin. I mulch with leaves in the fall, and I rely on cover crops all year long, not only to “fix nitrogen” in the soil (legumes such as crimson clover) and aerate it (crops like sorghum and oats), but to create lots and lots of “green manure” (hairy vetch creates a whole lot!). I also find the cover crops beautiful, interesting and attractive to butterflies, birds and bees.

    I try to think in terms of adding something to my soil every two-three weeks during the peak growing season (fish emulsion, compost tea, worm casings, etc.)

    Yet, it could still use more 🙁

  • Sylvie

    compost, compost, and more compost. Everything I can get my hands on: manure, leaves, garden debris, grass clipping, straw, mulch, coffee grounds, charcoal from the burn pile… Can’t.have.enough!
    (and I agree with espringf: the septic field is a fine place to grow grass for the compost pile.)

    This year I am planning to use buckwheat as a fast-growing summer cover crop in some areas of the garden.