Gardening From the Ground Up.
This blog was inspired by all the neighbors I have seen accepting deliveries of “Red Death” as a foundation of their gardens.
My first thought…You should have called me…the second, you will be calling me later to ask why your plants died :-/
For those of you curious of what “Red Death” refers to, that is the term us Master Gardeners use for “sandy loam”. That is the super cheap red-ish/orange or beige colored combo of clay, sand and silt, hmm…silty. Just what we do not need on our already clay, rocky, sandy soils. Most landscapers, pool co’s and home builders are notorious for bringing this disaster on the job to save themselves a few bucks and homeowners buy it simply not knowing better…or to save a few bucks :-/ One thing is consistent in my consultations with unsuccessful gardeners,..bad dirt (second is bad plants). “Loam” is considered optimal for garden soil… A true dark “loam” is not what you typically find here in Central Texas.
In school one of the MOST VALUABLE lessons I received was about soil. I realized that unless you could see, smell and feel a good quality soil, it really is hard to know what to look for. I suggest you go to a good nursery near you (not the big box store, a real, local, knowledgeable, nursery) and “touch” the highest quality garden soil they have. You will see dark soil with part sand, probably some Peat or Coconut husk, pearlite (those little white styrofoam ball looking thingy’s) usually manure and of course lots of organic material. If you could walk through MY veggie bed, you would find soil that looks like chocolate cake. When you squeeze it in your palm it holds tight, but touch it with your fingertip slightly, it falls apart….this is ideal. (I use a mixture of compost-50%/ other 50% divided equally, pine needles, or saw dust for acid and air, high quality potting soil with pearlite/organic manure (chicken, cow or turkey), and a tiny part sand for drainage. As for the rest of my yard, compost in the Spring and mulch in the Fall.
Now I could spend 10 more paragraphs explaining in great detail why you need to avoid Sandy Loam but instead I will get to the point. A little sand in your soil is good if you have heavy clay as it will assist in breaking the clay down making your drainage better. (you can also add a little crushed granite for this) However, sandy loam contracts like a rock in the heat making it impenetrable and impossible for the plant to spread roots. When it rains is holds water like a sponge drowning the plant and sticks to everything like clay, there is almost no nutritional value and it creates an inhospitable environment for microbial and fungal growth necessary for a healthy soil.
If you get nothing else from this blog, remember that there is an entire world “living” under your feet, Repeat that three times…You will never have the success you are seeking if you do not begin with your soil. Compost, compost, compost. Your soil should be dark (not orange, red or beige) rich with organic matter, smell like earth (decomposed plant material )and create an environment for the microbes, healthy bacteria and fungi needed to create a symbiotic relationship with your plants. Good soil allows for proper drainage, food for your plants and trees and best of all…Success! It takes several years to build a good soil (unless you use raised beds), it is expensive, but absolutely worth every penny not to mention far cheaper than bringing in sandy loam that kills the plants you spent so much money on. Here is an article I posted on the living organisms in your soil… Fascinating! http://lisalapaso.com/2011/02/17/bacteria-in-our-soil/ here is another on fungi , you will be amazed by what is going on down there! http://lisalapaso.com/2011/02/13/bacteria-in-soil-smarter-than-you-think/
If you are creating new beds there are a number of landscape suppliers who deliver a mulch/compost combo (living
mulch) in bulk. This is a great foundation for a new bed as you have the nutritional value of the compost and the water retention of the mulch. Each spring add more compost and till the soil with a pitch fork or garden weasel, and every Fall add more mulch. Over the course of a few years you will see Earth Worms, you will notice the soil is less stiff and that the material you are installing will begin to break down into soil…dark, rich, organic soil. Now if you are desirous, you can add other fancy amendments, (Pearlite, peat moss or coconut husk, crushed granite for drainage, manure) but they aren’t necessary if you are on a budget and want to do the least amount of work for the most benefit, compost, compost compost!
Do not use chemical fertilizers, they bind the nutrients in your soil and make them impenetrable to your plants, kill the microorganisms that naturally feed the soil and make your soil dependent on the chemical creating a vicious cycle, not to mention the environmental effects. Here is more info http://lisalapaso.com/2010/07/10/the-over-use-of-chemical-fertilizers/ Instead use liquid seaweed, it feeds your soil and plants while encouraging microbial growth. Do not overwork your soil or walk on it once it is amended. Never work your soil when it is wet, it destroys the structure essentially changing the DNA , and put your hands in the soil…there is evidence of serotonin in there…talk about a good mood enhancer!
Moral to the story, don’t cheap out on your soil, It will cost you in the long run!
No go get your garden on,
Lisa’s Landscape and Design (“like” me on facebook!)
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”
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- Posted in: Central Texas Gardens ♦ Compost ♦ Eco Friendly ♦ Edible Gardens ♦ Gardening ♦ Organic Gardening ♦ Soil Preparation ♦ Water Wise
- Tagged: Austin Texas, Avery Ranch, Central Texas, gardens, preparing a garden bed, preparing your soil, soil, soil amendments, soil preparation, starting new garden beds
Brilliant article, Lisa. And I am about to start my new vegetable bed using all my learning from our session and my garden in Austin. Well begun is half done, and good soil is a great place to start!
Thanks Peri, love the quote “Well begun is half done”, will have to borrow that one!
Great post! I’ve never used Red Death and not sure it would work in my simple gardens. your gardens are really beautiful so it seems to work great there. You really know what you are doing! Kudos to you!
Jenny “Red Death” is something I inherited, not something I would choose. It is a very difficult dirt to use which it why it is so important to amend with Compost. No matter what or where you garden is, always amend with compost…Compost can save the world!