Q: What’s the most important ingredient in your garden?
A: Your soil!
The folks at Seattle Tilth, in my training and in the Maritime NW Garden Guide, have always emphasized the importance of good soil. They refer to it as a “living bank”. What I took away from that (and I am oversimplifying once again) is that you have to make deposits, by adding organic matter (humus) and nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) to give plants what they need to feed and grow. Since different plants feed heavily on different nutrients, fertilizing (and rotating crops) helps keep your living bank from running empty.
I make deposits to my living bank throughout the growing season, by foliar feeding with fish emulsion and seaweed extract and side dressing with compost. My biggest deposit is in the Spring though, when I add compost and fertilizer to all my beds.
Getting my beds ready:
First, I start by pulling out any weeds. The soil will inevitably be compacted from the winter rains, so next, I fork up and rake out the soil. I also pull out any old root systems that I see. Then my beds are ready for the compost.
I do compost on site, but I just have a bio-stack compost bin that I bought from Smith and Hawken awhile back. It’s kind of small and I don’t turn it as often as I should, so it doesn’t produce as much compost as I need. Someday, I’ll build a fancy three bin system, but for now I truck in compost when I need a large amount.
Side note on trucks and wheelbarrows:
Conveniently, my last car crapped out right after I bought my house and I found myself needing a new car. So I bought a truck. Turns out it was a purchase I have not regretted. I have used it to get straw (to use as mulch and in the chicken run), cedar chips (for my pathways) and most importantly to pick up the large amount of compost that I need in the Spring. I still think it’s really neat when I go to Burien Bark and they just dump the compost into my truck bed and the whole truck lowers. FYI: Burien Bark delivers as well and I have had them deliver before when it was more than I could fit in my truck.
My wheelbarrow “dumptruck”, I don’t love as much. I like the idea of it, way better than it’s actual functionality. It is quite cumbersome to dump out of it and the metal railing that allows it to lift up has pinched my fingers on more than one occasion. I end up just lifting the whole thing up and tipping it over to empty it, so it kind of defeats the purpose.
I cover each bed with 2-3 inches of compost and then fork that in and rake out any huge chunks.
All the back-breaking weeding, forking, raking, shovelling and then forking and raking again, is worth it, because in the end I have nice fluffy beds, ready for fertilizing and then planting!
I know I could do a soil test to find out what the exact nutrient levels and deficiencies in my soil are, but that would mean I would have to collect, dry and sift a sample of the soil, mail it off somewhere and then wait. Some day I might do that, but in the meantime, I prefer to go the easier route and use a product from Walt’s Organic Fertilizer Company’s, called Rainy Pacific NW Blend. It’s formulated for our typically rainy climate and acidic soil, so it is high in Nitrogen and Phosphorous. I buy a big bag of it in the Spring, enough for all my beds.
There are instructions on the bag for how much to apply. It says 2-5 pounds per 100 square feet. My 3 beds are about 100 square feet each and I get a 20 lb. bag each year now, so I just hand toss an even, heavy coat on each side of each bed and that uses up most of the bag.
That’s it. The fertilizer does not need to be raked in. I just water it in, and I am now ready for planting!