We learn a lot of things over the course of summer–including, sadly, where our vegetables and flowers and plants aren’t growing. It can seem to happen out of nowhere, too. The same plot that gave you plenty of tomatoes and peppers during one season can suddenly give you nothing the next year. Oh, we can blame ourselves for a lot of it. We’ll worry that we planted too late or too early. Maybe we’ll look to see if we exposed our babies to too much heat. But sometimes we have to accept that it’s time to revitalize the soil. [image via wikimedia]
First, keep in mind that the end of summer is not the time to start revitalizing the soil. This is just the time to think about which plots of land need the treatment. You’ll actually wait until just before planting. Well, as late as two weeks, but sometimes as early as a month. The main thing is to let the soil dry out after a cool and wet winter. (Clay soil requires an even longer wait than usual.) You’ll also want to wait until then to clear out leaves, sticks, and other debris.
The soil is ready to work when you can’t ball up a handful of dirt. Then you’ll start by tilling up the top of the soil. Work over about the top six to eight inches, using a spade or hoe. Look into a power tiller, since you’ll also want to be removing any old roots.
After that, you’ll want to spread two or three inches of organic matter over the soil. Don’t assume that you can just go out and buy topsoil that has organic matter. Sometimes dirt is just dirt. You’ll want to look into using leaf mold, aged manure, or compost. The general rule is to add an inch of organic matter to every three inches that you plan to dig. That means you add two inches of compost to where you’re planning to dig six inches.
You’ll also want to break out some 5-10-10 fertilizer. That’s the kind of fertilizer where a 10-lb. bag offers you a solid 5% of nitrogen. Work that deep into the topsoil. You want the roots to be able to easily absorb all of those nutrients. If you prefer an organic fertilizer, then we recommend cottonseed meal for nitrogen content. It’s kind of pricey, though.
You shouldn’t wait until one bad crop to revitalize the soil, either. In other words, don’t be like us. Soil isn’t going to suffer from being regularly refreshed with organic matter. That’s a great use for compost, of course, and we’re also investing in some perlite. That’s a volcanic rock that you can buy in a variety of grades to keep your soil loose. Perlite is rock, so it’s not in a hurry to decompose, either. Add some peat moss if your soil is sandier–and maybe some lime, since peat moss is fairly acidic.
Don’t neglect using rock phosphate, either. That’ll add plenty of essential minerals. Get all that done early, and you’ll be on the way to a bountiful crop in the next season. But don’t forget to protect that newly revitalized soil, either. You can cover the land with a plastic sheet or an additional two inches of mulch to keep weeds from prospering from all your hard work. Then you’ll be all set to have a better crop than we did this summer.