‘Tis fall, the Season of the Soil! With the shorter days, and frosts in Wisconsin Nature is dropping its leaves to blanket the soil and begin to build the humus necessary to protect the future of it’s ecosystems. Mom Nature really knows her shit, and we should listen; if Mom is covering her soil, we prolly should too. Several billion years of evolution are talkin ya know? This will detail how I am prepping the beds in our annual gardens this year. These are the beds I built in June and the majority of the soil was trucked in – it needs some healing. And you know my answer for healing the soil: compost and organic matter.
In future years I may skip the composting, but we still had a bunch of weeds so off to the Hot Composting it goes. Once the beds were clear it was time to add some medicine – comfrey! I have about 6 dozen Russian comfrey plants on property cloned off 2 plants I bought 4 years ago. Comfrey is a wonder plant, full on minerals and excellent food for soil microbes. Here is a shot of my a bit of my comfrey “coppice”, a double row along a 80′ fence line.
The comfrey is hacked done with a sickle and laid out on the beds. Comfrey is a wonder plant, but it can also resprout occasionally. To prevent this do two things – compost when you cut it when its flowering (if you have viable seed like me), and also when using it as mulch, don’t cut the fronds too close to the ground to prevent any chance of re-rooting from any root chunks. Still, you will likely get some volunteers over the years. In the permie beds I encourage this. In the veg garden, not so much. That imposed order is not natural, but its there. Smother any that come up with a mini sheet mulch.
A layer twice this thick could also be used, but much thicker than that and I would be concerned with it going anaerobic under the mulch. Next up I spread nearly finished compost. Actually this is as finished as most of my compost gets unless I am making potting mix; I prefer to leave some un-decomposed organic matter for the microbes to breed on in place. Look at the color difference! In very general terms, the darker the soil the higher the organic matter content. Humus is black.
I had about 1/2 of a yard of compost left for the three beds I was prepping. Dividing it out works to about .6 inches on average. I would prefer more, but with the mulch breaking down all Fall/Winter/Spring I will add another .5″ over time. Final step is to “tuck them in” as Nature intended. In this case its a 4″ (once settled) of well rotted straw that served all summer as the walls of the Methane Midden.
Not quite done. Need to fill the 1′ paths back in with new wood chips. Why? Because choosing to use wood chips on the path was brilliant. It prevents compaction by spreading the load of walking, but it also holds moisture, and breeds soil fungus like crazy, lots of mycelium after only 4 months. Outstanding!
Notice that none of the beds were turned, nor do I plan to turn it in the spring either. Yep – going no till baby! And from a guy with a $4000 rototiller that is saying a lot! A surface hoeing with a 7″ scuffle hoe was done to clear the debris. Once the debris was clear I could see dozens of holes from the deep tilling earthworms. The straw and compost layers mimic natural soil strata: topsoil-> humus -> duff-> mulch.
No till it is.
2011 is going to be awesome!
Be the Change.