Have you ever experienced unhealthy plants? A poor harvest … or worse, no harvest at all? This may be due to a lack of preparation. Before planting, is the ideal time to prepare and reinvigorate your soil to avoid disappointment.
Creating healthy soil is one of the key factors to focus on before you begin planting. It’s unlikely plants will grow well in ‘dead dirt’!
“Organic matter, nutrients, moisture and an active microbe population are important elements to add to your soil.” – Anne Gibson
So let’s take a look at some tips and simple ways to prepare your garden for planting and using your space wisely.
Garden Planting Tips
I’m going to take you on a quick ‘virtual tour’ around one of my client’s gardens. Let’s peek into Andrea’s backyard as a practical example of the principles you can apply in your own garden.
Andrea lives in Dayboro, west of Brisbane in SE Queensland, Australia. A mainly subtropical climate, bordering on temperate for some of the year. It’s a compact suburban garden block, with beautiful native habitat at the front and a productive edible garden surrounding the house. Andrea’s goal is to create a sustainable garden and she’s well on the way! She has a compost system, worm farm, chickens, fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. It’s a delightful space to spend time in and it’s improving every year.
Andrea says “I have 2 raised garden beds in my garden and lots of vertical spaces, which I’m finally utilizing thanks to Anne’s wonderful advice. Due to the hot, dry and humid conditions in summer, my little plots were left bare.”
Andrea had bought some green manure seeds (Cow Pea and Japanese Millet). However, she didn’t get a chance to sow them in these garden beds, due to the weather.
These garden planting tips should give you some easy ways you too, can prepare your soil.
Green Manure Crops
Tip: Green manure crops are quick growing annual varieties, sown to cover the soil. You choose one suitable for warm or cool seasons. Before they set seed, you ‘chop and drop’ the leafy green tops as a mulch or gently turn into the soil. This adds organic matter, nutrients and encourages soil microorganisms to decompose the plant material.
Green manure crops are an easy way to build healthy soil in preparation for planting. If the weather is too tough to grow regular crops, consider sowing a cover crop. Even a few out of date seed packets will help to feed soil microbes. It’s better to be growing something than leaving your soil bare.
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“Inside the chicken run I planted out a Pigeon Pea (Cajanus Cajun), which provides an excellent source of protein for the chickens, as well as free mulch for the garden. I also sowed a seed mix of leafy greens and grains for the chickens and heaps of nasturtiums.”
How to use Nasturtiums
Tip: Nasturtiums are an ideal choice to grow for poultry. They are an attractive, edible and colourful flowering herb with loads of health benefits. You can harvest the leaves, seeds and flowers for the kitchen. However, the plants also provide free seeds high in protein for chickens. Poultry can self-medicate by pecking the leaves, which are a natural de-wormer. Once the plants die back, their foliage can be used as a nutrient-rich mulch for the garden. They’re my favourite flowering herb to grow and my garden wouldn’t be without them.
If you have chickens, put your girls to work! They can turn ‘green waste’ and household kitchen scraps into ‘black gold’ compost you can use in your garden to grow more food. Chook manure is also a useful free fertilizer.
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Adding Soil Amendments
When March arrived and mornings were slightly cooler, Andrea decided it was time to get stuck into the two garden beds.
“In a wheel barrow, I mixed up the following: Compost from my garden (which received a boost from using molasses and seaweed), slow release organic fertilizer pellets, aged cow and chicken manure, potash, gypsum, rock minerals, charcoal, soaked coir peat and perlite. The main ingredients were the compost and the manure. All the rest, I went by the directions and didn’t overdo it.”
One of the strategies Andrea is using to build soil is creating compost. She does this by adding organic materials from her garden to an unused raised bed. This slowly breaks down, creating rich compost that can be used to grow food. No heavy lifting or turning needed.
Tip: Cover a green (nitrogen-rich) layer with brown (carbon) material to finish.
You can apply the same principle by layering any organic materials you have on hand into a suitable large container. e.g. leaves, bark, lawn clippings, manure, potash or prunings to create a no-dig garden or compost system. Free plant food to build soil health!
Be Prepared to Start Early
Tip: When choosing what to plant, consider your local climate conditions. Timing is really important! Sowing early (before the growing conditions are ideal) can sometimes give you a head start on the season, if you’re lucky! Sowing too late can mean you lose an opportunity to grow a particular crop.
“Sometimes you have to hope the weather will go in your favour and try sowing a few seedlings early. If you’re in luck, you’ll harvest an early crop! Worst case, you’ll take a small loss.” – Anne Gibson
It’s worth experimenting and recording in a journal what works for you. You’ll be able to make better informed decisions next season if you keep a record.
Feed Soil Microbes
Andrea left the garden bed for about a week or so, and then planted it out with Asian greens, chilli, eggplant, lettuce, rocket, NZ spinach, zucchini, tomatoes, spinach, silverbeet, kale, cabbage, broccoli and a couple of peanut plants. In between the seedlings, she planted garlic. Who’s thinking ‘yum’?
“After planting, I watered well and added seaweed and molasses to a 9 litre watering bucket, another of Anne’s wonderful suggestions.”
Tip: This mix helps activate the soil microbes so plants get off to a good start.
Finally, Andrea finished her garden beds off with pea straw mulch to add more nutrients to the soil and retain moisture.
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Andrea’s chicken coop is primarily made from wire mesh. I suggested that she utilize this space to grow vertically, opening up new possibilities for climbing crops.
“Along the edge of my chicken run grows stinging nettle, a raspberry bush and asparagus. I will be utilizing the vertical spaces to plant out winged beans, climbing beans and snow peas and whatever else I can find in my seed collection I think will do well.”
Garden Design Tip
Living vertical green ‘walls’ can also create a semi-shaded microclimate. This may be useful as a cooler, shady area for chickens to shelter during hot weather or to grow other plants that benefit from some sun protection. Look at your own space to utilize any vertical structures you have already e.g. fences, railings or buildings.
Andrea says: “I would just like to thank Anne again for her inspirational advice and ongoing support that got me going. I still have a long way to go but I know now, you need to keep on top of it, not just think they will be okay with a water here and there. Before her visit, my garden was struggling, but now it’s sprung back, all with a bit of effort and good guidance.”
If you need some help in your own garden, consider one of my garden consultation services for personalised advice. Please leave a comment and I’ll dish up some more tips very soon.
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Happy gardening! Anne
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