There are five very cheap ways to amend your garden soil.
1. Create Your Own Compost Bin
If you have the space in your garden, for very little money you can compost your own kitchen waste, grass and garden clippings, and leaves. In a 4′x4′x4′ container, include half “brown” materials – straw, leaves, newspaper and other dry things – and half “green” materials - grass, food waste and other new materials.
Add lots of water, turn occasionally (every 3 days to 3 weeks, depending on how fast you want it to decompose), and wait (2 weeks to 4 months, depending on the weather, how often you turn it, and what you’ve included in the pile).
2. Create Your Own Worm Bin
A friend of mine is going to show me how to do this soon, so I’ll post about this soon. But in the meantime, if you looking for a smaller-scale way to recycle your kitchen scraps into luscious soil-amending goodness, check out Patti’s video:
3. Lasagna or In Situ Composting
In Situ Composting. This is the lazy gardener’s compost method. Here’s what I do: I line my garden paths with straw. As I’m weeding and cleaning up the garden, I throw everything into the path, on top of the straw. You can also add food scraps, but be aware that animals might come find them so choose cautiously. The paths will begin to decompose, rain and excess water from watering will keep it moist.
By next year, the paths will decompose and you can turn in the soil a bit and move your path to a new spot. Keep in mind that you can only use weeds that haven’t gone to seed, because this method doesn’t get compost hot enough to kill the seeds.
Lasagna/Sheet Mulch Gardening. Another lazy gardener’s compost method, essentially you create a 2′ tall compost pile all over your garden, alternating green and brown in each lasagna layer. If you do this in the fall, by spring you should be able to plant in rich soil! I looked for a good video to show you, but the above is the best I could find – it helps, anyway!
4. Plant Cover Crops
Fall or spring, you can plant cover crops – there are a plethora of options. Crimson clover (above) is one of my favorites, because it’s beautiful and brings a lot of nitrogen and organic matter into your soil. Peaceful Valley has some of the best resources – their Fall catalog has an amazing grid listing all their compost crops with each one’s benefits. However, if you find cover crops locally, you’re likely to happen upon ones that work best in your area.
5. Let Your City Do It For You
A good portion of local municipalities now have compost programs that work with your regular garbage pick-ups. Every Spring, we go get a truckload full for $10-20, depending on how big a load we want.
It is a lot of exercise to bring in a whole truck load of compost at a time – but with two people, a shovel and a wheelbarrow, you can unload it and mix it into your soil in 2-3 hours. And you feel really strong and well-exercised the next day!
Which Method Do You Use?
How have you amended your soil in the past? Will you try something new this year?