starting gardening on very poor soil?

smile_sunshineApril 1, 2007


i'm trying to help my friend start growing some flowers outside her flat, but the soil is very poor - no worms or even weeds growing there. It was very compacted so we spent a day digging it, not sure if this will help or theres anything else i could do to improve it? (possibly bring some comfrey leaves from my allotment and some worms!???)

any ideas?


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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Well, without any organic matter to eat, the worms you bring over would just leave. What is needed is organic matter, both to break up the soil, help keep it moist and feed the microherd that will help feed the plants. In the short-term, whatever OM you can add will help, in the longterm, your friend should be looking for OM, and making a compost pile. Spoiled vegetables and trimmings from the greengrocers, used coffee grounds or tea leaves from a coffee shop, etc., etc., can all be collected and added to a compost pile, along with grass clippings, weeds that haven't gone to flower, etc.. It sounds as though you have a bit of experience, so I'll stop there.

I don't know how accessible bags of composted cow manure or compost and suchlike soil inprovers are in the UK, but adding a bag/cubic meter of such, along with finely ground bark, to the bed will be a quick start on improving the soil. I don't know if your friend owns or rents the place - if she rents, she may do better to confine her gardening to containers, even as basic as directly in a bag of compost (holes poked in the underside for drainage, slits down the top to plant into, and mulch over the whole to hide the plastic), and not trying to work directly with the soil. That way, all the "good" goes to the plants, especially if she is trying to grow vegetables. And if she uses more formal containers than plastic bags, she can take them with her to her next house.

If she owns the site, then she can do anything she wants to improve the soil. Google, or look on these forums, for "lasagne gardening". It will give a basic means of improving soil without breaking your back digging it. You and your friend can use this to make more beds. In the meantime, you can add what you can to this bed, and start a compost pile or vermicompost bin for future compost, to add more later.

I would do all you can to improve the soil, as above, then plant your flowers, and keep them well watered. You will probably need to fertilize them during the first year (at a minimum) because it sounds like the soil is less than optimal, and you can't get it there in a couple of weeks, never mind a couple of months. Use a balanced, slow release fertilizer, if you can't find an organic one, which would be that by definition. Diluted, liquid soil drenches would also work. Use a hardwood or bark mulch to cover the soil - it will limit weeds and help keep moisture levels up in the soil.

Good luck with your project, and sorry if I covered things you already know.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2007 at 4:14PM
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Add some soybean meal or even alfalfa pellets, aka rabbit pellets. I agree with dibbit on the rest. She could even do trench composting if she has no place for a compost bin. Basically just dig a hole and bury anything organic, like lettuce, bananas, etc., just try to stay away from anything that has seeds that will germinate.


    Bookmark   April 1, 2007 at 9:17PM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Just be a little careful about the salt content of rabbit food pellets. The alfalfa (lucerne) pellets for cattle or horse feed probably won't have any added salt, but the ones for rabbits or pet rodents may well do so. A little salt will probably be OK, but a lot won't help at all.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2007 at 10:38PM
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What that soil needs, as dibbit said, is organic matter, lots. Earthworms are an indication of what the Soil Food Web is doing and none means no SFW. Both need lots of organic matter to live, grow, and feed your plants. Since most all soybeans today are genetically modified they are not something I would use, but they (and the alfalfa) would not help until you had more organic matter into the soil anyway.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2007 at 7:09AM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

I'd try growing cereal rye somehow since they add a lot of OM in the soil due to large amount of root system.

I'd probably try and loosen up soil a bit, add some compost and mix it in then plant cereal rye and clover seeds. You probably will have to provide some nitrogen fertilizer to maximize growth. By next year, it should be much better.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2007 at 10:45PM
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kimmsr, I thought soybean and alfalfa were organic matter?

    Bookmark   April 3, 2007 at 10:54PM
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If the soil is poor, then select native plants known for thriving in poor native soil.

Otherwise work on the soil to make it more suitable for whatever your friend wishes to grow.

Soil is like a fish aquarium. Not all fish are equal. Some require hard water, others soft. Some require an acidic water, others alkaline. Some are really adaptable. Many factors to consider, but plants vary in what they require to do well.

Your friend needs to choose plants for the soil or rework the soil for the plants your friend wants.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2007 at 3:45AM
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Alfalfa is organic matter, but at least around here it is expensive and I would use what I could find free of cost first before spending money on something to amend my soil. There is so much free organic material around to use that buying something is really unnecesary. Most all soybeans are genetically modified to day, although some small amount is not. You may be able to find some soybean meals that does not contain GE soybean but that would involve much searching. We do have a couple of farms that grow unmodified soybean but processing that is difficult because most of the rest is GE soybean and the processors are not going to seperate those unless you pay a lot of money for processing.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2007 at 9:46AM
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Steve Solomon's new book has an answer to the question. Dig a hole and put in a roadkill. Cover it and plant. Tom

    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 12:11PM
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