Gardening brings the joys of fresh fruit and vegetables, but it can also bring the ache of a bad back and a hole in you wallet. Fortunately, there are a few good ways you can save time, money and effort in the garden. Forget about labouring through autumn to till your soil, or forking out money to buy store-bought compost. Here are three alternatives to preparing your soil for planting season.
The first step to keeping your soil healthy is to never leave it bare, even during winter. When soil is left open to the elements, it grows weeds or dries out to become compact. Instead, cover all of your bare earth with mulch to solve these problems and give some additional benefits. Mulches like hay and woodchips can be purchased from the hardware store, but there is an abundance of cheap and easy alternatives you can find around the house.
Try collecting scrap leaves from a deciduous tree in the neighbourhood, or pick up some old cotton carpet left out on hard rubbish day. Even old newspapers serve as fantastic mulches, because they allow moisture and air to reach the soil, kill off weeds and even prevent new ones from growing. These mulches can be left to decay and enrich the soil, or topped up and removed when it's time to start planting.
By feeding your garden food scraps, you create tiny microbes that break down particles of nitrogen and carbon to enhance the soil. Composting is great for the soil but traditional methods, which usually involve digging holes and burying food scraps under a few inches of soil, take up some time and effort. And unfortunately, these lightly buried food scraps can become prey to scavengers like foxes and crows which will mess up the garden.
There is however a simple way to make your own compost without these hassles. Start by collecting food waste and plant matter as you usually would. When you're ready to add to the garden, place your compost under and overturned earthenware pot. This pot should be heavy enough not to blow over or become dislodged by mischievous animals. It keeps the compost and the earth damp and ripe for microbes to work their magic. In just a few weeks you can remove your clay vessel to reveal enriched soil.
Put your chicks to work
If you're lucky enough to have a few hens roaming around the backyard, these can be put to good use in preparing your soil. Feed your chickens right above the earth you want to use for gardening. While scratching around in the area, the chickens will effectively till the soil, mixing in decaying organic matter along with their droppings which are rich in good nutrients for the soil.
Technically the scratching does upset the top layers of the soil, but whatever damage this does is outweighed by the benefits of their droppings and the "tilling" action. The newly added nutrients will help the soil bounce back to better health—and you didn't have to lift a finger!
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