I am having quite a time trying to find a good way around buying fertilizer for our gardens while keeping our soil fertile and healthy in the city! I am determined to find a way to return to a simpler brand of farming that does not use any kind of store-bought products. This includes pesticides and fertilizers, organic or not. The idea is to encourage a healthy ecosystem that takes care of itself with minimal intervention by the grower. Healthy soil begets healthy plants, which then resist disease and pests of all kinds. This, in addition to some best practices such as companion planting, regular weeding and grounds clean up of dead or damaged leaves and regular watering should encourage a healthy ecosystem that will sustain itself and produce beautiful vegetables. These practices were a matter of course for growers everywhere until the early 1900s, but since the industrial revolution we have been taught not to trust nature (or ourselves for that matter) and trained to buy products to fix everything. Learning how to have a top rate soil composition without store bought amendments in the city has been a real challenge and a rather steep learning curve. (All of my cucumbers are round!) I would like to share my progress so far. http://www.mofga.org/Publications/MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Fall2009/OrganicMatter/tabid/1257/Default.aspx This article explains much better than I can exactly what a healthy soil consists of, and how to achieve it, but to summarize briefly: Your vegetable garden’s soil needs to have:
- pH 6 – 6.5
- lots of available nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK)
- an appropriate amount of organic matter (around 5%)
- a large variety of trace elements (boron, calcium, magnesium etc.)
- good aeration
- good water retention
Which might look like is this: Ok, I haven’t yet found a good way around buying vermiculite or perlite and peat moss or cohir (coconut fibers) for aeration and water retention… So: ¼ peat moss or cohir ¼ vermiculite or perlite ¼ soil ¼ compost* *But the compost needs to be made up of a large variety of sources: garden and kitchen waste (for P), wood ash (for K), charcoal (for good soil structure and a home for bacteria and microbes that do all of the heavy lifting in this whole ‘lifecycle’ business), poultry and horse manure (for N), and seaweed (highest source of micro and macro-nutrients). Apparently urine is very good source of N, P and K and readily available to boot. So go pee on your compost pile (but maybe under the cover of darkness…) We get compost from the city (you can too – through Compost Montreal www.compostmontreal.com), and have the results of a soil analysis to let us know exactly how much of each element we have. Now I just have to learn how to read it! Hopefully it will be well balanced, because honestly until we get out to our (at this point hypothetical) 2 – 5 acre hobby farm just outside the city, most of these ingredients are going to be hard to come by.