If you want your soil to give you plenty
of good veggies you have to feed it well. In conventional farming fertilisers are seen as “food” for the plants. I’d rather like to see fertilisers as food for the soil. The soil is a living organism full of bacteria, worms and small insects. These small beings all work in the soil to break down organic material into smaller parts that can feed the plant.
The best food for the soil is compost and organic material like manure, leaves, hay, seaweed, straw, grass, weeds etc. The more organic material you get into your soil, the better it will get. Garden soil consists of maybe 5 % organic material. If you can double that amount you will get an excellent soil that doesn’t need digging.
All kinds of animal manure are good for the soil. I get horse manure, mixed with straw, from at nearby riding school. They are happy that I want to use their manure because for them manure is just a waste that they have to dispose of. I make big stacks of the manure and let it burn and decompose for a year. Then I use the compost to build more soil on my beds. I also use the straw from the stable directly to cover my beds, especially the potatoes. Fresh manure is not advisable for potatoes and roots, but to cover with straw is very good. In that way I don’t have to put extra soil on top of the plants which is otherwise required to prevent the tubers from getting green.
Here in Sweden many people often put out animal manure on their beds in the autumn. This might be convenient but it also means that you lose a lot of nutrients into the ground, especially nitrogen. The nitrogen then travels to rivers and eventually to the sea where it creates massive growth of algae and eventually this might kill the sea bottom. I prefer to use manure when it is needed, i. e. when the plants really need more food.
Chicken manure is full of nitrogen and a good replacement if you are used to using chemical fertilisers. As it is very concentrated it is also easy to transport if you’re in a city and you can buy at you nearest garden centre. (But if you transport it in your car, bring an extra plastic bag to cover it during transport. Otherwise your car will for some weeks smell like a chicken farm.)
I use chicken manure for extra feeding when the plants are growing fast. Instead of applying the manure directly to the soil I let it soak in water for some days. I then dilute this water until it looks like weak tea and pour it near plants that are fast growing like tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, leek and all sorts of cabbage.
I often get the question how much manure is needed for different plants. Generally I never measure or even know how much I give them. If you use organic material you can never use too much as the material has to be broken down by the micro-organisms in the ground. If you use chemical fertilisers or chicken manure you can spoil the soil with too much. That is the reason why I prefer organic stuff which also gives me a perfect soil. If you use the mulching method (I will describe it in my next hub) you will always have enough nutrients in the soil to make you plants thrive in the spring. Then you can add extra manure in the summer when you see that the plants are really growing fast.
Gardening in the city
When you live in a town or a city you have plenty of opportunities to get organic material to your garden for free. Actually I don’t buy fertilisers; I grow my 400 square meters without having to buy anything except for some of the seeds.
I get a lot of grass clipping from a football court and that is my main fertilisers during summer. In the autumn there are many places where I can collect leaves as most people want to get rid of that. I also get horse manure from the riding school.
To get my composts decompose fast I need more nitrogen and the free source for that is urine. Urine actually contains exactly the nutrients that plants need and we all produce 1-2 litres a day. I add urine to composts which gives me good, nutritious soil faster.