Feed your vegetables well and they will thrive
Veggies and fruit are fast growing plants and therefore need a lot of plant food. So to get healthy veggies you need soil that is full of nutrients. It also needs to keep hold of water.
Because we harvest veggies a few months after they have enjoyed their enthusiastic growth spurt, all the nutrients that they take out of the soil to grow, end up in our kitchen/stomach/compost/chicken pen/bin etc. SO each time you harvest, you should replenish your soil then too.
How to prepare the soil in your vegetable bed
If you have very sandy grey/white/yellow/orange laterite soil read on..
Sand is great for allowing water drain through so the soil doesn’t get water logged. It also allows roots to grow easily through the soil. and is easy to dig! (sigh..say the Clay soil people)
HOWEVER unless it is dark brown and crumbly looking you are probably lacking nutrients and places for water to stick around –
To improve sandy soil >> Add compost. Mix 50:50 with existing soil – 20/30cm deep. Your aim is to turn the soil dark, crumbly and full of goodness. Add again each time you plant a new crop.
You can also use a quality soil conditioner – see below for a note on that.
Bonus water retention – As a side benefit, all the new organic and fibrous material will now help water stay in the soil for longer. Adding a small amount of clay will help this even further. (add this when dry & powdery and mix through well – large sticky clumps of clay are less helpful)
Clay soils >>
If you have a heavy clay soil ..
Clay soils hold water really well, and does have a built in supply of nutrients (as the clay holds on to everything!)
However it can hold on too well, become water logged. It can also be very dense, concrete-like or slimy. This stop roots from being able to grow freely through the soil and can therefore stunt growth, it also can get really compacted and lack oxygen – plants and microcritters all need lots of oxygen in the soil to be healthy.
To improve clay soil >> Add compost 50:50 with the clay. Best done while the soil is dry so you can break up hard clumps. (Again, you can use a quality soil conditioner instead)
Your aim is to turn the soil dark and crumbly. This will add tiny air pockets which will allow room for oxygen, root growth, microcritters and water to drain.
If your clay is super dense a raised bed may be the way to go. Gypsum can help some clays too, as can compost+mulch+worms+time.
If you have no soil yet
Fill your bed with a quality vegetable soil mix. A regular soil mix can be boosted with compost! or soil conditioner or aged cow/sheep poo.
What other Soil additives should I add?
There’s all sorts of other things you can add to your soil to help improve the soil composition – zeolite, rock dust, worm castings, coir, cow/sheep poo, wetta soil, liquid or other fertiliser/seaweed concentrate…these all have their benefits (for another blog).
Soil conditioner will have some of these already included if it is made well.
Avoid synthetic additives for your edible garden as long term use can mess with pH and leave traces of things that are not helpful.
What is Quality Compost?
You can use compost or a good quality soil conditioner. Make sure your compost/soil conditioner is not a cheap landscapers chicken poo + sawdust mix which some suppliers sell. These can be highly alkaline and not good for your plant growth. Source from a supply who understands and researches their soil mixes.
If you make your own compost, do some research on how to make a quality mix. I will blog on that another time!
What is the difference between soil conditioner and compost
The difference between soil conditioner and compost is the way it is made. In brief, a good quality soil conditioner will usually contain compost, plus other additives like clay, charcoal etc. If well made, soil conditioner is an excellent soil booster for your vegetable garden and should benefit the soil in the same way as compost. Use a special mix for veggies if available.
Can I use straight manure on my veg bed?
Yes, its a large component of good compost. BUT do not put fresh poo (chicken/horse or other) straight on the bed. Let the manure compost for 6 months before adding to the garden.