An avid gardener often reveals his passion through his comments as he tours another’s growing space. For example, observers may see me squat down to retrieve a handful of soil which I will squash and sift and even smell. And then I will voice my expert opinion, “Dude. That’s good dirt!” From the red clay hillsides I trampled as a boy in West Virginia to the heavy yellow clay that once surrounded my current home in North Carolina I’ve faced the challenge of growing stuff in less than ideal soil. The harvest will come, but the planter has to complete some serious work to reach that goal.
I once envied those gardeners on the PBS fantasy show, The Victory Gardener, as they turned beds filled with rock-less soil with such little effort. And their harvests amazed me with one stellar crop after another. Victory Garden indeed! Even with the shorter New England growing season and the yards of snow they received their garden performances ran circles around mine. Was it technique? Seed quality? Choice of tool? Speaking to the plants with the correct accent?
In my investigation I encountered the same message time and again. A successful garden is built from the soil upwards. Here is wisdom on the subject from a few experts.
If you take away only one thing from this book, it’s this: proper soil preparation is the most important step you can take to ensure a successful garden…Successful gardening is all about the soil and what is happening around the roots of your plants.
Gardening in the South, Mark Weathington
Healthy soil is the most important part of gardening.
The Backyard Gardener, Kelly Orzel
There is no instead way to create good garden soil, but by adding small amounts of organic matter, little and often, it will improve over time. This gardening practice is key to making a healthy, self-sustaining, low-maintenance shade garden.
Glorious Shade, Jenny Rose Carey
You can purchase the best plants in the world but they will not thrive unless the appropriate soil is provided. So don’t throw your money away. Start with the soil and then pick the plants.
Garden Renovation, Bobbie Schwartz
Improving your soil and making compost are two important first steps to creating a healthy garden.
The Experts Book of Garden Hints
I learned to make compost, installed paths to prevent soil compaction and added organic material to my clay-filled beds at every chance. After thirty-three years of experimentation and sweat, our garden beds at Paths of Hope are finally reaching the state of good dirt. Mom was a gardener, and one of my joys was to share plants with her then to return season after season to see how she was enjoying her new additions. She asked often about the dirt I had potted around the plants, and I humbly bragged that we made that dirt, on site, in North Carolina. To have Mom envy my dirt was like earning the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
You may be thinking, “Well, I don’t have thirty years to wait for good dirt, and I don’t have time to compost.” That’s fair. How about a short cut? Several of our local garden supply companies offer what I will call “quickie dirt” though they may use other names for it. The horticulturist might describe it as, “A viable product which may provide an ideal gardening medium for most plants.” I’ll just say, “Wheeee doggies, Shawn! Watch that broccoli grow!”
Last year we added a pair of raised beds for vegetables and purchased a yard of certified organic compost from Mulch Masters here in Raleigh to jump-start the garden. Their site describes the product as: “100% composted materials from food grade cafeteria production residuals, yard trimmings, and aged sawdust. This product is very light and fluffy. Also includes the nutrients necessary for healthy planting…Our Premium Certified Compost has the US Composting Council Seal.”
I noticed the organic fragrance as I shoveled the material from the back of the truck to wheelbarrow it to the garden. I marveled at the richness as I mixed it with our soil and filled the beds.
In late August we planted a fall/winter crop and wondered what would happen. Imagine popping out the back door in January, cutting fresh lettuce, pulling delicious carrots, and harvesting broccoli for a salad. Cauliflower is on next year’s wish list. And I would grow those delicious garlic/butter croutons, but I haven’t found any seeds yet.
We don’t need magic beans when we have magic dirt.