Sometime in early Spring of 2015, we spotted a few bulbs sprouting up in the side beds and the fall green manure cover crop perking up in the rear bed. I knew that the green manure mix was supposed to survive the winter, but I was impressed all the same. It was great to have some green shoots decorating the bleak vista without having to do any work to get them to appear.
Following the guidelines for the green manure mix, I waited a few weeks and then turned them under in order to kill them off, let them decompose as new organic matter, and give the soil a blank slate for our spring vegetables. I considered covering the soil to block the sunlight and prevent them from reappearing, but ultimately decided to try leaving them be. I was careful to avoid walking on the soil, so as to avoid compacting it. I’ve worked hard to bring it up to a friable, spongy texture over the past three years that the plants’ root systems seem to appreciate.
This is the most common question I hear from friends. I think it might be because people who have gardened, or like the idea of gardening, or who have never gardened for that matter, have all heard of or tried composting. It seems to be a kind of romantic touchstone that people identify with building a greener planet, like recycling. Perhaps it is easier to envision throwing your food scraps onto a pile than it is to imagine digging in the soil? Not really sure why it’s such a popular question. Of course, we are fans of this process—composting is a wonderful thing.
Having said that, our composting operation is new, and very much contained, for a few reasons. First, we have a lot of pests in the area—raccoons, bugs, squirrels, etc… and we don’t want to attract them any more than we already do. For this reason we don’t compost food from the kitchen. If we lived in the country, it would be another matter.
There’s one spot in the garden beds that didn’t do as well as the others in terms of heavy metals on the soil tests. Through research, testing and various practices, I’ve been able to keep these metals out of the food we eat and out of our bodies. I am fully confident that these strategies are working. However, I’m still very interested in further reducing the issue and risk, and testing and learning along the way.
I’m committed to improving the soil in my spot, a spot which I’ll be stewarding for a long time, I hope. In 2014 I decided to try cover cropping, resized for the urban garden.
Green Manure is one term used to describe planting species which will improve the soil quality. They do this while they are alive by lossening the soil, adding nitrogen to the soil, and preventing weeds, and they do this when they are dead by breaking down and creating first a layer of mulch, and then compost.
When it comes to organic gardening, the wisdom seems to boil down to “add compost”. So the previous year, 2013, I added a TON of compost from various sources, along with several other healthy soil amendments to lighten and improve the soil. All in all, I added three inches of material over all the beds. I prepared for a bumper crop.
In spring of 2014, I had all of the shrubs in the side beds removed. The rear bed at the south end had already been cleared the season before. I pulled a lot of weeds, and moved some stray flower bulbs into a couple of spots I reserved for perennial flowers to call their own.