As you may have noticed our garden has undergone some changes in the past few weeks in an effort to improve the health our soil for spring planting. For now, the garden is resting for the winter but there is still plenty of activity happening underneath the frost blanket! Here are some of the steps we have taken as a community to help our soil…
- Placing a newspaper and cardboard barrier under the soil. We have noticed a huge number of roots in the garden when upon digging deep down. They are likely far reaching roots from our massive Tulip Tree! It is apparent that these roots are competing with our veggies for nutrients stunting the growth of most of our seeds and starts. Thanks to parent and student volunteers, we were able to dig all the soil out of our box one rainy morning. Later that afternoon children helped me lay down newspaper and cardboard at the bottom of our box to hopefully redirect the tree roots. Having no soil in our box meant we had two huge mounds of dirt and a large empty box for playing in! This only lasted one day but the children were thrilled to jump barefoot in the soil and run through our empty garden bed like a race track. The children helped pull roots out of our soil mounds and rake some extra love into it too. After several hours the soil was looking better than ever!
- Adding compost. After lots of time scooping the soil back into the garden, we added two big bags of compost. At this point our garden was just one big digging bed. No one had to worry about accidentally digging where seeds were planted because there were none!
- Planting new seeds. We planted garlic for the 3rd time! Our first garlic seeds got dug up by animals and our 2nd garlic seeds got dug up by humans when we took all the soil out of the garden. In addition to garlic we planted annual cereal rye as a cover crop for the winter. Cereal rye is excellent for improving soil health, balancing nitrogen levels, boosting organic matter, and reducing erosion.
- Covering with a frost blanket. After planting our new seeds we tucked the garden in with a big frost blanket for the winter. We may have to take it off sometimes to water, but this should help the soil not freeze during the cold months.
- Fences all around. One of our biggest obstacles to the health of our plants was that our plants were very exposed to animals that might want a snack! Our seeds have been dug up by dogs and squirrels several times. We have already tried a few different methods to fix this… Chicken wire fencing proved too sharp and hard to take down. Stakes and twine proved to be not enough protection. Our new short wire fences will allow us to access the garden when we need, but will keep other animals from digging up the plants.
Starting in the spring we will be adding dry organic fertilizer once a month. When will also be fertilizing our starts with a liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion. Special thanks to Portland Nursery for the tips on improving our soil, and to the parent volunteers who came early on our late start day to help get this project started! We are so excited to see how it fares this spring!