British Columbia: Soil Amendments on a Budget?

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gardening in the Pacific Northwest' started by dasein, Apr 10, 2011.

  1. dasein

    dasein Member

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    The boyfriend and I are currently living in a rental property with a very sunny yard (~0.20 acre). There appears to be the remnants of a veggie garden already in place, but we discovered late last summer that this consisted of bricks laid out to mark the beds and about twice that depth of top soil, laid over top of the bare earth. In the fall of 2009, we planted a cover crop of rye and it did relatively well I guess? (the rye got to about 3-4" high). Most of the beds have pretty poor soil ('dirt' is a probably a better word for it!) with high rock content and very clay-y.

    As a result, we've been trying to improve the beds for this year's crop. The rye has been chopped up and each bed's soil has been lifted out, sifted, large clumps broken up, rocks large than an inch removed. We then loosen the next 6" down with a garden claw, remove large rocks and layer yard waste over top (mostly oak leaves and grass clipping). A layer of the bed's original soil to bring it up to its original level, then formed the rest into a raised mound with layers of newspaper, compost, some additional leaves, mushroom/steer manure, sea soil and the torn up rye leaves/root matter. It's definitely not in the levels they should, usually only a 1/2" of the good stuff as we're trying to work a large area. They still look clay-y as hell, but it's at least loose and fluffy.

    The problem is cost; if we owned the place, we'd have no problem buying all kinds of manure/sea soil, coconut coir, etc. to flesh it out and lighten it and improve organic content. The composter is nearly empty and we're down to our last bag of sea soil. Does anyone have any suggestions for cheap (or at least, cheap-er) soil amendments/strategies? Specifically, I'd like strategies that can be deployed for this summer/early fall. From what I've read (this winter was a hell of a lot of reading!) there are cheap methods using cardboard and yard waste, but they take time (usually over-winter). Need something quicker than that! Thanks for reading and any suggestions you might have :D
     
  2. dasein

    dasein Member

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    So ... I dun goof'd :( We have a large black walnut on the property and I've been told by friends not to bother planting anything near it as the walnut will kill pretty much anything. I can confirm this from observation: nothing except a few species of weeds grow within 10ft of the tree, and its bare earth for closest couple feet.

    However, I didn't think the toxicity extended to the leaf matter! Further research today has shown that yes, the leaves are toxic as well. Walnut leaves have been the bulk of the carbon addition in our composter, and I realize now I've been screwing myself inadvertently. The last of the stuff went down a few days ago during bed prep, but nothing has been planted yet. Does anyone know how long I should/can wait for the toxicity levels to drop, or at least sink deeper into the bed so at least its not touched by veggie roots until later season? Also, the thing produces a massive amount of leave matter, can I still use it to insulate the outside of the composter in the fall/winter? Thanks again!
     
  3. ryansenechal

    ryansenechal Active Member

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    Hey there,
    That's a tough break on the leaf clutter going in the composter -- lesson learned! If the soil profile in your garden is reasonably well draining, the frequent spring rains we've been having will go a long way to flush the high concentrations lower in the soil profile. If your soil is not well draining, it may be the time to go back to the drawing board and think seriously about a raised bed.

    So long as the fine root tissue from the Black Walnut is not in proximity to the soil profile you intend to plant in, you should be able to make it happen. Obviously, heading forward you want to remove all Black Walnut debris pronto. Best case scenario is a raised bed, or at least a base and side lining of an effective root barrier to prevent Walnut root penetration/contamination.

    As for how to amend your soils for cheap, keep an eye on usednanaimo and craigslist lawn and gardening as excess materials are often up for grabs. The best advice I can give is think small as far as your production garden's physical footprint. You can haul a lot of vegetables out of a relatively small raised bed with some careful layout, and attention to the soil profile/moisture/fertility. You can pick up most of the materials you need one rubbermaid garbage bin at a time from the garden centre. It's not a stretch to build a raised planter for under $40, or scavenge scrap materials if you want to save money for seeds; when you want to move you can take it with you. The frustrations of dealing with Juglones are manageable, but will always be a reality.
     
  4. Tree Nut

    Tree Nut Active Member

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    Organic fertilizer recipe with guaranteed success:

    3 parts seed meal (if you can't get seed meal use the cheapest dog food you can buy)
    1 part bone meal
    1 part blood meal
    1 part agricultural lime (calcium carbonate)
    1 part dolomite lime (calcium/magnesium)
    1 part gypsum (calcium sulphate)

    You can also add 1 part Kelp meal and rock crusher dust (free from any rock crushing operation) for trace nutrients.

    All the above (except crusher dust which is free for the asking) can be purchased relatively inexpensively from any professional ag store that serves farmers. What you don't use now you can take with you if you move. Buy in 50 pound bags for maximum savings. Don't pay more per pound at a garden center by purchasing the smaller amounts they typically sell.

    To apply, broadcast 6 quarts over 100 square feet (10 x 10 feet). Dig into the soil with a shovel or rototiller. For higher demand vegetables, sidedress the plants with the fertilizer every couple of weeks, adding another 6 quarts total over the growing season.

    I wouldn't worry about more organics as you should have enough. It is more important to get the soil minerals right.
     
  5. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    How do we know all these mineral sources will be needed on every site, with all the different soils out there?
     
  6. ryansenechal

    ryansenechal Active Member

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    Excellent point.
     
  7. Tree Nut

    Tree Nut Active Member

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    Well it's my slight variation on a organic fertilizer recommended by Steve Solomon, who wrote "Gardening When it Counts", among other books. Actually it is probably the best book on veggie gardening i've read and highly recommend it.

    Before moving to Tasmania, SS was a west coast gardener who started territorial seed company and their canadian offshoot west coast seeds back in the day. This fertilizer recipe was his general recommendation for soils in high rainfall areas. To paraphrase him "light liming is always a safe and productive thing to do as long as your climate is humid enough to grow a lush forest. If your soil already has enough calcium and magnesium (highly unlikely in the original poster's case), the amount I am suggesting won't throw things out of balance"

    As discussed in other threads, not everyone wants/needs a soil test. As a general recommendation, the fertilizer is a very good ratio to use, and will not upset the soil. No different really than adding manure (not knowing its nutrient content as manures can vary greatly) or other compost. The soil described by the original post sounded very poor, and this should help immensely. However, since it is the only recommendation he has received so far, the original poster can either try this recipe or choose not to.

    While I'm big on soil testing and test my soil annually since I grow professionally, this doesn't seem cost effective for the OP who could probably buy more food than the garden would grow for the cost of a professional soil test/analysis/recommendations.
     
  8. dasein

    dasein Member

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    Tree Nut, thank you for the recipe! I have easy access to a lot of beaches (hooray for coastal living!) so I think many of the undug beds will be covered in drying kelp very soon here. Do you think a slight alternation would be ok?
    3 parts seed meal/dog food (cheap dog food, really? I have a lot of cats come into the yard, you don't think they'll be even more tempted to dig in my garden? :S)
    1 part blood meal
    1 part bone meal
    1 part shredded kelp

    Thanks again :)
     
  9. Tree Nut

    Tree Nut Active Member

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    Dasein,

    Make sure you add at least dolomite lime which can be purchased anywhere very inexpensively (less than $20/50 pound bag I believe ). It will make a huge difference. The measures I gave you are dry measures, so use a 2 cup measuring cup to get the right ratios.

    The cheap dog food is mostly corn meal. You probably want to crush it and mix it in immediately so you don't attract pests The higher in protein content, the more nitrogen. Most seedmeals chemically measure 6-4-2 for NPK

    The kelp will work wonders too, but may take some time to decompose. Kelp meal is dried and shredded into little flakes so it breaks down quickly. It has a full range of trace nutrients, growth regulators and natural hormones that act like plant vitamins.

    Best of luck with your garden! Let us know how it turns out...
     
  10. aceracer

    aceracer Member

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    Also, check out your local municipality. Vancouver offers free compost to residents in May although it is U pick up in Delta.
     

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