No matter what you're growing — vegetables, flowers, lawn, shrubs — the real key to making them thrive lies at your feet. It's all about the soil.
And for some reason, gardeners are quite willing to spend lots of money on plants, fertilizer and garden gadgets, but they really balk at spending time or money on soil. If you want your plants to thrive, not just survive, you really need to focus on your soil first.
Soil is amazing stuff. It's not only a mixture of sand, silt and clay, it's also more than half air and water and only about 2 percent organic matter, on average. Healthy soil teems with micro-organisms that are responsible for converting nutrients into forms the plants can take up.
Soil varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood, from farm to farm. And since home construction involves extensive excavating for foundations, sewage lines, drainage and landscaping, the soil right around your house may be nothing like the native soil at the far end of your yard.
Some backyards have soil that's nice and loamy, and great for growing, but many of us have soil that is far from ideal. Your backyard soil may be mostly sand, heavy clay, stony or shallow to bedrock or severely compacted.
So what can you do? It's possible to turn a patch of lawn into a productive garden but if your soil is far from ideal, on of the simplest ways to get started is to build a raised bed. I'll go in-depth into how to build raised beds in a future article, but for now I only have room to tell you why you might consider this option.
Raised beds let you focus your soil improvements to a smaller area. I always encourage new gardeners to start small. You can always make a garden bigger as you gain experience. Far too often new gardeners are so enthusiastic they start too large and then become discouraged by mid-summer when things don't thrive or the weeds take over.
A raised bed gives you a chance to create ideal soil for growing in a concentrated area where weeds and watering will be minimized. Yes, you will have to spend some money to bring in supplemental soil, compost, organic matter, and so on, but that investment will pay off immediately.
As you get more familiar with soil improvement you'll learn ways to create some of your own amendments. For example, you can save grass clippings, compost food waste, gather leaves and pine needles, and glean rained-on hay that is of little use to farmers. Or you can buy a variety of amendments such as peat moss, bagged compost and manure, and shredded bark mulch.
If you would 'd like to learn more about how to make your garden thrive, come to our program Growing From the Ground Up this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Miner Institute in Chazy.
We'll discuss some key aspects including soil improvements, raised beds, composting, starting seeds, handling transplants and making the most out of the growing conditions you have. We have hands-on activities and demonstrations and there will be lots of time to ask questions in small groups.
The cost is $20 but you need to contact our office today to reserve your spot. Call 561-7450 or email Jolene Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org For a brochure visit our website at http://counties.cce. cornell.edu/clinton.
Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Clinton County. Office phone numbers: Clinton County, 561-7450, Essex County, 962-4810, Franklin County, 483-7403. Website: www.cce.cornell.edu/ecgardening. Email questions to askMG@cornell.edu.