Soil Amendments and the Small Garden
The subject of natural soil amendments can be quite extensive and complex. We will try to keep it simple and concentrate on natural nutritional soil amendments.
Our focus is on small space gardening and we use balcony gardening as a common model. With this in mind, there will usually be a variety of pot and planter box sizes. There will probably also be a modest variety of plants. Some are petite and delicate and others have voracious appetites. This is a reminder that each plant, container and potting soil combination may require a different amount and frequency of nutritional supplementation.
If you started with a good potting soil then you might want to start amending after a couple of months, at monthly intervals. If you planted into a premium potting soil then you might wait a few weeks longer to start amending. If you find yourself with a basic potting soil to work with, then amending earlier and more frequently will help.
Soil Amendments, Just a little
It seems that one of the most common mistakes people are making is to “over-amend”. So, adding a little bit of amendment now and then is better than trying to work in a lot all at once.
The other way to approach nutritional supplementation for plants is with Compost Tea, but that will be a subject for another time.
Any and all manures used should already be composted. This approach is simpler, easier, less risky and better all around. Composted manures will add the usual nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium plus many other natural nutrients to your soil in a gentle and gradual way.
Composted Steer manure is probably the most commonly used but certainly not the only option these days. Steer manure typically has a good nutritional balance and reasonable cost. Composted chicken manure is also popular. It is a bit more concentrated.
Composted Horse manure is also excellent. It is usually already combined with hay or straw. If the manure is from animals feed on natural pasture or hay that is a bonus. We use horse manure compost at Green Planet Naturals.
Worm Castings have become one of the most popular potting soil amendments. The simple beauty of worm casting is that the worms have done most of the work and the gardener and the plants can do their thing without much muss or fuss. The worms have fed upon and digested their food which is then cast off, which is a fancy way of saying now we have worm manure. The castings are what many people refer to as “mellow” because they do not burn the plants with excess nitrogen. In other words, the worm castings do not need to be composted. A top dressing of worm castings can be “leached” into the soil as plants are watered. The nutritional balance can vary quite a bit depending upon what the worms were fed, so pay some attention to that.
To keep things interesting you may want to play or experiment with:
- Bat Guano is high in Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Micro-nutrients.
- Blood Meal is great for heavy feeders.
- Fish Bone Meal is a great source of Phosphorus and Calcium.
- Kelp Meal is a rich natural source of Potash and ideal for early Spring or Fall application.
Next time we will discuss natural fertilizers.