9

votes

Home Gardeners: How do you prepare your soil?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created February 23, 2012 at 10:58 PM

When it comes to eating, I have no problem. Now I wish to enter the world of self sustainable growing. I have grown successfully in the past, but with the typical modern supplies. How do you prepare your soil organically, and what are the top 10 things to grow? I am aware of regional climate and such, but would like to get outside input from self made gardeners that have developed their own "style" of what works and what doesn't.

Thank you all.

2fd93e91bb14e641a2bac9c6033e84e2

(1614)

on February 26, 2012
at 10:42 PM

Warren, good to know! I'll put them in the garden instead. Thanks.

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 25, 2012
at 09:14 PM

Epsom salt ftw!

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on February 25, 2012
at 05:59 PM

Haha, I love farming, but now live in the city. I've definitely got my eye on getting back to the land soon. I visit the 'rents and clean their barn for fun during the summer.

65125edd5aafad39b3d5b3a8b4a36bb7

(6082)

on February 25, 2012
at 05:23 PM

Yes, what you feed your pets has an important effect on whether their feces are useful for decomposers.

685e3c967e63b4eacccf02628fd9a3ac

(1026)

on February 25, 2012
at 03:06 PM

Is it cool to be a farmer, Matt? I always wanted to do that... But I guess it's not easy. I once met a farmer who puked from stress at certain times, just because he had too much to do.

F3583667d653163c121640a015ffa93a

(784)

on February 25, 2012
at 01:16 PM

Alex, you should have a few hens, feed them the kitchen scraps and then compost their manure. Wish I had your greenhouse! Sounds really nice!!

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 25, 2012
at 11:50 AM

Earthworms are not interested in compost. You want smaller worms like those that you find under rotting leaves etc

D7cc4049bef85d1979efbd853dc07c8e

(4029)

on February 25, 2012
at 07:23 AM

Exactly how I'm going to dip into gardening veggies this year. I'll be making it from scratch according to the second edition of Square Foot Gardening.

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on February 25, 2012
at 01:35 AM

This is a fabulous strategy if you have a lot of wild grasses and rocky soil- at my work on an organic farm we had a big problem with rocky soil, and a couple years of lasagne bedding we have a beautiful, lush garden.

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on February 24, 2012
at 11:25 PM

My grandfather had an avocado grove. It was glorious, and the trees are perfect to climb in. Sadly, when he got too old to care for it, the people who bought his property turned off the irrigation system and the trees died.

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on February 24, 2012
at 11:24 PM

My grandfather had an avocado grove. It was glorious, and the trees are perfect to climb in. Sadly, when he got too old to care for the grove, the people who bought his property stopped irrigating the grove and the trees died.

35ba1f50dad25c85ac1aa2599fe5c5cb

(2485)

on February 24, 2012
at 10:26 PM

Seriously, once we settle into our permanent house I'm planting an avocado, a lemon tree and possibly a fig tree. Yum!

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on February 24, 2012
at 08:08 PM

Unfortunately my favorite vegetable takes years - avocados.

Medium avatar

(4878)

on February 24, 2012
at 07:18 PM

Oh, and Coffee grounds are also GREAT!!! They keep the bugs away while improving the acidity.

Medium avatar

(4878)

on February 24, 2012
at 07:16 PM

I agree with the PonyPoop, with one caveat... You need to know that the pony isn't being given any meds. BUTE is a common supplement for aging horses/pain relief in the equine world. The PonyPoop also needs to be aged as it can burn plants. I'd recommend at least 6 months of aging (allowing it to be warm) with worms to be the best quality PonyPoop.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on February 24, 2012
at 04:43 PM

If you muck out my barn, you can keep it all!

Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32566)

on February 24, 2012
at 02:15 PM

And usually free for the hauling...

Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32566)

on February 24, 2012
at 02:15 PM

Horse manure is the beesknees!

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:39 AM

http://www.squarefootgardening.org really cool, thanks!

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:35 AM

Awesome, thanks for sharing!

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:34 AM

thank you for this

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:33 AM

There are a ton of worms in my yard since my dogs are grain free, this is good to know.

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:32 AM

One day I plan to get away from the city and be able to get back to chickens, great advice.

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:30 AM

ashes, very good.

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:27 AM

Egg shells, now that is something I definitely have plenty of.

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:25 AM

Great website, thanks!

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:24 AM

Makes sense either way, lol

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on February 24, 2012
at 01:03 AM

Healthy well-fed animals produce manure with good mineral content. If animals are fed a CAFO diet (the corn itself is only fed NPK fertilizer) they are deficient as is their manure.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on February 24, 2012
at 01:02 AM

A corn-y answer, but there's a kernel of truth to it. *buh dum tsh* I'll be here all night folks!

65125edd5aafad39b3d5b3a8b4a36bb7

(6082)

on February 24, 2012
at 12:13 AM

That's more important than I think you realize.

A65499f2f8c65602881550fe309cd48c

(3501)

on February 23, 2012
at 11:30 PM

Great question and one Im very interested in too.

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16 Answers

5
3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52

(18635)

on February 24, 2012
at 12:07 AM

I like square foot gardening http://www.squarefootgardening.com/. Using raised beds makes better use of space and is pretty easy on beginners. We grow lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, radishes, green onions, 2-3 varieties of peppers, and of course tomatoes. That would be my go to list. You can play with the varieties within each of those categories.

I like the lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, radishes, and green onions since the can be sown in the garden from seed. I'm not hard core enough to do the whole indoor seed start....well thats a lie, I tried it once and it went horribly wrong :(. So the rest I buy from a nursery started. For our family of four we get a good bit from 2 8x4 boxes.

Some things I would change in my own set up include putting the boxes in a place I could set up some irrigation drip hose. Raised beds do need more frequent watering.

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:25 AM

Great website, thanks!

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:39 AM

http://www.squarefootgardening.org really cool, thanks!

D7cc4049bef85d1979efbd853dc07c8e

(4029)

on February 25, 2012
at 07:23 AM

Exactly how I'm going to dip into gardening veggies this year. I'll be making it from scratch according to the second edition of Square Foot Gardening.

4
32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on February 23, 2012
at 11:40 PM

Goes to the garden shop: "Is that manure grass-fed?"

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on February 24, 2012
at 01:03 AM

Healthy well-fed animals produce manure with good mineral content. If animals are fed a CAFO diet (the corn itself is only fed NPK fertilizer) they are deficient as is their manure.

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:24 AM

Makes sense either way, lol

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on February 24, 2012
at 01:02 AM

A corn-y answer, but there's a kernel of truth to it. *buh dum tsh* I'll be here all night folks!

65125edd5aafad39b3d5b3a8b4a36bb7

(6082)

on February 24, 2012
at 12:13 AM

That's more important than I think you realize.

Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32566)

on February 24, 2012
at 02:15 PM

Horse manure is the beesknees!

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on February 24, 2012
at 04:43 PM

If you muck out my barn, you can keep it all!

Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32566)

on February 24, 2012
at 02:15 PM

And usually free for the hauling...

685e3c967e63b4eacccf02628fd9a3ac

(1026)

on February 25, 2012
at 03:06 PM

Is it cool to be a farmer, Matt? I always wanted to do that... But I guess it's not easy. I once met a farmer who puked from stress at certain times, just because he had too much to do.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on February 25, 2012
at 05:59 PM

Haha, I love farming, but now live in the city. I've definitely got my eye on getting back to the land soon. I visit the 'rents and clean their barn for fun during the summer.

3
Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32566)

on February 24, 2012
at 01:20 AM

I make "lasagne" beds , inspired by Gaia's Garden, a home permaculture manual. Depending on where you live, this can be the ideal "no digging" solution.

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:34 AM

thank you for this

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on February 25, 2012
at 01:35 AM

This is a fabulous strategy if you have a lot of wild grasses and rocky soil- at my work on an organic farm we had a big problem with rocky soil, and a couple years of lasagne bedding we have a beautiful, lush garden.

3
2fd93e91bb14e641a2bac9c6033e84e2

(1614)

on February 24, 2012
at 12:24 AM

The best thing I've ever put in my soil: composted pony poop. Srsly. It's like Miracle Grow, only cheaper and better. Especially since I had "babysat" said pony and knew it grazed in a pasture all day and ate hay in the stable, with only a handful of oats each day.

I compost kitchen scraps and yard waste. It's not vermicomposting, but I do throw in earthworms when I find them. I also mix the ash from our firepit into the compost. I'll use coffee or bone meal to supplement based on acid levels.

The top 10 things to grow are the top 10 veggies you're gonna eat! I always get ridiculous with tomatoes, because I can them and don't have to worry about BPA liners, recycling tin, etc. Potatoes, onions, and carrots are high-yielders and are easy to store. I grow greens and peppers because I eat them all the time, and a variety of herbs too. My excitement this year is that I'm going to grow kirby cucumbers for pickle making. :)

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:30 AM

ashes, very good.

Medium avatar

(4878)

on February 24, 2012
at 07:18 PM

Oh, and Coffee grounds are also GREAT!!! They keep the bugs away while improving the acidity.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 25, 2012
at 11:50 AM

Earthworms are not interested in compost. You want smaller worms like those that you find under rotting leaves etc

Medium avatar

(4878)

on February 24, 2012
at 07:16 PM

I agree with the PonyPoop, with one caveat... You need to know that the pony isn't being given any meds. BUTE is a common supplement for aging horses/pain relief in the equine world. The PonyPoop also needs to be aged as it can burn plants. I'd recommend at least 6 months of aging (allowing it to be warm) with worms to be the best quality PonyPoop.

2fd93e91bb14e641a2bac9c6033e84e2

(1614)

on February 26, 2012
at 10:42 PM

Warren, good to know! I'll put them in the garden instead. Thanks.

3
7e1433afbb06c318c4d90860d493c49d

(5959)

on February 23, 2012
at 11:55 PM

I have a garden, but I tend to get overwhelmed with the amount of work and abandon it. But, we also have an attached greenhouse on the house, and I do grow herbs and hot peppers in there very successfully. All year long, I save eggshells and fruit/veggie kitchen scraps for compost. In summer, they go in a plastic bin. In winter, however, I dig holes in the greenhouse bed where I'll be putting plants, and I fill the holes with the compost material and then pile the soil back on top. The stuff cold composts for a few months, and then I plant on top of it.

That compost zone is the only fertilizer the plants get, and they do fine. Last summer, I got so many habanero peppers off two plants that I ended up giving away about 10 pounds of them, and I still have so many of them dried and frozen that I won't need to grow them again for a few years.

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:27 AM

Egg shells, now that is something I definitely have plenty of.

F3583667d653163c121640a015ffa93a

(784)

on February 25, 2012
at 01:16 PM

Alex, you should have a few hens, feed them the kitchen scraps and then compost their manure. Wish I had your greenhouse! Sounds really nice!!

3
8dbe73235f73c615f20d3d0f34b4852a

(1365)

on February 23, 2012
at 11:35 PM

I prepare my soil with a light butter sauce and a dash of paprika.

But in all seriousness, here's a great book that is a distillation of more intense permaculture literature. It's a great how-to on urban and sustainable farming.

Gardening for People and Planet

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:35 AM

Awesome, thanks for sharing!

2
4b05d725a8332e8e917a4ca58b6e8a1e

(1239)

on February 24, 2012
at 12:53 AM

Great question! I live in a wet climate with a sloped backyard, so raised beds are a must for me so my plants don't drown. In the fall, I plant a cover crop in my beds (red clover this year). Right around now, I open the gates to my beds and let the chickens go to town scratching up all that clover and turning the soil. Before planting my seeds, I turn in a layer of homemade compost and organic fertilizer. I like to fertilize my plants with a chicken manure "tea" that I make myself. I practice crop rotation as well, so my soil stays nice and healthy. Soil maintenance is hands down the hardest part about raising your own food, but it's also the most important.

My favorite things to grow are carrots, greens, beets, potatoes (sweet and white), berries (all kinds), tomatoes, peppers, herbs, cucumbers, and squash!

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:32 AM

One day I plan to get away from the city and be able to get back to chickens, great advice.

2
65125edd5aafad39b3d5b3a8b4a36bb7

on February 24, 2012
at 12:15 AM

I do worm composting, since the winter here in Colorado makes it a bit more difficult to do traditional compost piles outdoors, and also I live in an apartment, so I don't have the space for a pile of rotting vegetation.

Worm composting is a great way to reduce the amount of trash waste you produce, while also producing bioactive soil to add as an amendment to your garden in the Spring.

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 24, 2012
at 03:33 AM

There are a ton of worms in my yard since my dogs are grain free, this is good to know.

65125edd5aafad39b3d5b3a8b4a36bb7

(6082)

on February 25, 2012
at 05:23 PM

Yes, what you feed your pets has an important effect on whether their feces are useful for decomposers.

1
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 25, 2012
at 12:11 PM

Mulching and terracing.
I don't compost anything. Compost is more work than I want to do. The ground here is usually hard and dry. I'm not breaking my back digging in compost.
I chop up everything that I can to use as mulch. I also bring home anything, that I can use as mulch. I use a thick off cut of timber as a chopping board and an old cleaver and just chop that stuff up and then throw it all around the garden, will nilly. It's quick and easy.
The weather here (Ibiza, Spain) is mild/warm in Winter and hot in Summer. I use mulch to protect the soil from the heat of the sun.
We live on the side of a big, rocky hill. When it rains here, it really rains but before you know it, the water has run off and the ground is dry again so I do what the locals have done here for thousands of years and have built level terraced gardens with dry stone retaining walls. This combined with the mulching has worked really well at capturing and retaining a lot of rain water in the soil.

1
8949bf87b0e0aefcad10f29975e4fa2b

(8989)

on February 25, 2012
at 02:03 AM

If you are serious, find the local sustainable gardeners and do what they do. Every spring, I have to laugh when I see new gardeners try the stuff that is popularized in books, especially things like square foot gardening, which is a fairly rigid technique if followed the way MB insists. IMO his method isn't very paleo, since it involves a fake soil blend. There is no one way to get soil into shape, it all depends on what you have to start with. I tailor my approach depending on the type of soil I am dealing with. I might add organic material, sand, clay or (rarely) just fertilizer. The best thing to do is to read some Steve Solomon and learn all about your soil and unique conditions.

1
518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on February 25, 2012
at 01:46 AM

I use a lot of compost for my garden, it is rich, free, and wonderful for the plants! To help the egg shells break down in the compost pile my mom saves them and bakes a whole lot of them at 300 degrees F in the oven until they are brittle and browned, so that is a good tip if you find that when you turn your compost the egg shells are still whole and haven't broken down much. If you live near the ocean, my grandma (a master gardener) spends a few weeks fermenting seaweed for her garden and it always produces fabulously! She collects several large, black garbage bags full of seaweed and lets them sit out in the sun for a few weeks. They really break down and get their rot on during that time, then cover your composted soil with a thick layer of the seaweed. On top of the layer of seaweed she will put a layer of straw (especially if she is going away and not spending much time tending the garden, it holds the moisture in). For rockier areas of the garden, or when trying to get a new area going, we use the lasagna method which is a pretty fool proof easy way to get a garden going.

We grow loads of kale, chard, lettuces, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, basil, rosemary, chives, various squashes, snap peas, kohl rabi, radishes, potatoes, fava beans, and sometimes broad beans.

If you want to get gardening, an easy bush to plant that grows well in many conditions would be a blueberry bush. We always had lots of blueberry bushes planted around the house, and I don't know if it was just because of our climate, but they produced fabulously towards the end of the summer. Unlike our raspberry and blackberry bushes they didn't spread and take over the property, so that is another bonus!

1
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on February 24, 2012
at 09:03 PM

I use a compost heap to convert veggie scraps, grass clippings, stray horse manure, leaves, etc. into humus for the garden. I use it mainly under heavy feeders but scatter some all over the garden patch.

If there is time, I plant a fall cover crop before we leave for Mexico and then roto-till it in in the spring to provide more organic material. Usually it is fall rye.

My main veggies are fresh peas including edible pod and regular, bush and pole beans, tomatoes, mesclun and romaine lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, radishes, kohl rabi, broccoli, swiss chard, spinach, and occasionally a small patch of corn.

For a new garden, the lasagna method is a good way to get started without a lot of slave labour digging up sod. Of course slave labour could be construed as Paleo, and provide exercise!

If your soil is relatively rich in nutrients square foot gardening is awesome and cuts down on weeding because things are so close together.

Mulching with leaves, straw, or other such material can hold moisture in and prevent weeds from taking over, and it eventually adds to the soil as well.

1
Ca1150430b1904659742ce2cad621c7d

(12540)

on February 24, 2012
at 07:20 PM

I love these guys. T&J Enterprises. I do a lot of container gardening, and will be doing lined raised beds in our new place. I prep with BioVam, then use the compost tea I make with their brewing kit, as well as yucca extract, biominerals, and Planters II on a rotating cycle. I also use their plant sunscreen during years like last year, where we're going through high-sun/drought conditions.

1
Ef31d612a661d9fcb19c8965d3a2bd12

(533)

on February 24, 2012
at 05:47 PM

We keep ours pretty simple. Last year was 4' x 8' ... just dug out 2' to double the size during the recent warm weather here in Pennsylvania. We mix in a few bags of organic garden soil every spring, and we just got a juicer so I've been saving some of the pulp and tossing that in one little spot a foot down, to try to compost it. Haven't checked on it lately, I wonder how it is doing.

Any time I'm doing any non-food planting, and I stumble across a few worms, I toss them in the food garden.

We plant a few rows of carrots from seed, some tomato and pepper plants, some squash or cukes, some horseradish, and in a completely separate area (learned our lesson last year) some sweet potatoes.

1
1a68c71d62aa058a86c83c5bb0c28650

(150)

on February 24, 2012
at 05:28 PM

I don't garden so I can't add a lot to the discussion, but I did see this article in the NY Times about a place called Four Season Farm that might provide you some resources. Specifically the mention books called, ???Living the Good Life," ???A Garden Primer," ???Four Season Harvest,??? and ???The Winter Harvest Handbook." I can't vouch for any of these books myself. Please read the article as it seems like their methods would be compatible with an ideal paleo gardening situation.

Here is the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/23/garden/living-off-the-land-in-maine-even-in-winter.html?pagewanted=all

Also, I recently bought some Epsom Salt to bathe in. The box noted that it could be used as a fertilizer. If magnesium is good for paleo supplementing it might be good for paleo gardening :)

Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on February 25, 2012
at 09:14 PM

Epsom salt ftw!

1
35ba1f50dad25c85ac1aa2599fe5c5cb

(2485)

on February 24, 2012
at 06:39 AM

My garden is sooooo not paleo. We use raised beds with a drip irrigation system and a combination of composted organic matter and purchased compost. We live in Southern California, so a combination of hot summers, year round vegetable gardening and a healthy drip of water means that our plants wear the soil out faster than we can compost. I do typically cycle some legumes through our beds (sugar snap peas in winter and heirloom dried beans in the summer), they help fix nitrogen and a pot of baked beans at a summer BBQ isn't the worst paleo crime in my mind. I have a friend who is able to garden with less intensive soil replacement, and I'm learning some things for her, but she puts in a lot more work and has a smaller household to feed. So I'm not sure... I'd like to be more self reliant, but it's only our 3rd year of gardening, and I'm still learning a lot. (Anyone with ideas, chime in!)

However, I do have advice for what plants to start out with... look first at what vegetables you like to eat, and then identify the 3-5 most expensive ones. Plant a couple of varieties of each type of vegetable the first year, and track to see which ones are healthiest and have a good output. The next year plant those varieties that did well the previous year. You want to find plants (preferably traditional varieties instead of hybrids), that are well suited to your microclimate, and resistant to local diseases. If you have a good quality independent garden center near you they can often point you in a good direction.

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on February 24, 2012
at 08:08 PM

Unfortunately my favorite vegetable takes years - avocados.

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on February 24, 2012
at 11:24 PM

My grandfather had an avocado grove. It was glorious, and the trees are perfect to climb in. Sadly, when he got too old to care for the grove, the people who bought his property stopped irrigating the grove and the trees died.

35ba1f50dad25c85ac1aa2599fe5c5cb

(2485)

on February 24, 2012
at 10:26 PM

Seriously, once we settle into our permanent house I'm planting an avocado, a lemon tree and possibly a fig tree. Yum!

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on February 24, 2012
at 11:25 PM

My grandfather had an avocado grove. It was glorious, and the trees are perfect to climb in. Sadly, when he got too old to care for it, the people who bought his property turned off the irrigation system and the trees died.

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