My cottage sits on a postage stamp-sized city lot surrounded by stately shade trees. In spite of the tiny yards and shade, my North End neighborhood is very enthusiastic about urban gardening, and you’ll find many small vegetable gardens squeezed here and there.
My kitchen garden sits in a narrow south-facing side yard, the only sunny part of my yard. When I first moved here, almost twenty-five years ago, I had a wonderful garden that yielded baskets full of vegetables, but over the years the surrounding trees grew larger and as the hours of sun shining on the garden diminished, the yield declined. I eventually lost enthusiasm for growing vegetables, and the last few years only planted a few flowers there.
Recently, however, I’ve been reading about organic gardening, and my interest in my little garden plot has been rekindled. I’ve learned that while the lack of sunshine was responsible for some of the decline in my vegetable yield, I was also neglecting my soil and even harming it.
I had never added compost to my garden to feed the organisms that soil needs to nourish plants. In fact, I added a lot of chemicals that only boosted plant growth short term, while depleting the soil even more over the long run. I realized that over the years, I’d literally “killed” my garden soil. Even the earth worms had moved out because there was no food for them there.
I was so excited (yeah, I get excited by stuff like this) to learn what had gone wrong and that I could rebuild my garden soil just by feeding it! So last fall my husband and I built new garden beds, filled them with a pickup full of organic compost, and mixed it in well with the soil already there.
This is the soil with the truck load of compost mixed-in. I wish I had a before photo of the soil before we added the compost. It was gray and dry and cement-like. Yuuuk.
We wanted to spread some chicken poop on top (apparently, gardens LOVE chicken poop!) and let it rest all winter, but we were too late and the garden centers were out of it. So the garden slept as it was all winter long, waiting.
Yesterday, we went to a new organic garden center right here in our neighborhood (yay!) We bought some organic compost in a bag that has, not only chicken poop, but all kinds of good natural stuff that healthy soil needs to help support plant growth (like worm castings, bat guano, gypsum, kelp meal, oyster shell, lime and other good stuff.)
We opened the bag and spread the compost evenly out on the beds 2-3 inches deep.
Then we mixed it in with the soil.
Here’s what it looks like now. I wish you could feel it. It’s soft and airy and moist and it smells a little like the forest, so good! I just really get a charge out of thinking of this soil as a living thing, full of natural organisms munching on all that good organic mulch.
While we were at it, we covered the paths between the garden beds with clean (weed free) straw to keep the weeds down and our shoes from getting muddy.
Next week is when it’s fairly safe in our neck of the woods to plant spring vegetable seeds. I can’t wait to play in the dirt!