There is no spot of ground, however arid, bare or ugly, that cannot be tamed into such a state as may give an impression of beauty and delight.
Did you know that Ms. Jekyll amended her soil to the unbelievable depth of 16 feet? I think it was because she could. And she wasn’t doing the digging!
Unless you have a herd of husky gardeners (sigh!) or the soil in your garden bed is truly unspeakable, I’m here to tell you digging isn’t necessary. The only thing your garden really needs is compost. And lots of it.
Sometimes digging can actually be detrimental. How can this be, you say?
Organic matter aka compost determines the structure of soil. Organisms continually break down this organic matter adding to the soil’s structure. Macro-organisms are earthworms, insects, slugs and small animals. Micro-organisms are creatures such as protozoa and nematodes. Then there are plant organisms such as roots, bacteria, algae, and fungi. All of these particles work together to create healthy, living soil.
Digging destroys whatever colonies of organisms might live there and destroys the established structure of that soil. Think about how nature builds soil. She builds soil with new layers of organic matter laid down every year. She doesn’t dig. And that’s how you build good soil too.
Digging and tilling also create what is called hardpan, the layer at the depth of your shovel or the tines of your tiller. This layer turns to cement and roots can not penetrate it; nor does water. Shallow soil creates shallow roots that become water-dependent.
Now if you dig down deep enough, hardpan doesn’t matter. I’m sure Ms. Jekyll didn’t worry about it. But for the rest of us, composting is the answer.
When should you put down compost? All the time. Now. You CAN garden in the Winter!
How much should you use? A lot. There’s no such thing as too much compost. I make my own, but it’s never enough. I end up buying bags and bags of mushroom compost at Home Depot.
Not only does it improve your soil, but frequent composting discourages weeds and eliminates the need for organic fertilizers. (I’m assuming you eschew chemical fertilizers. You’re a beekeeper, right?)
You won’t need to use that horrible pine bark mulch, which is bad for your soil anyway.
When the snow melts in Ohio, I’ll be outside, getting a head start on applying my compost. Why don’t you try it this year too?