I can hear you now, it’s deep winter, why think about gardening now??? Well my friends, this is the time when you should be thinking about preparing your soil for late winter and early spring, there are only a few months in which to do this, while your garden is sitting idle, assuming you aren’t snowed in you can be working on your soil, if you are snowed in, this is something you need to do during the fall and spring, of course you can always work on your soil during the summer month too. Let’s talk about preparing your soil.

The soil is the body of your garden, it’s the foundation, if your soil is poor, if it is out of balance in some way, whether it be too sandy, too rocky, too much clay, etc… then you will not get a good return on your hard work, your plants will not have a chance to produce good yields because they will be, quite frankly, fighting for their life.

I remember as a kid, my parents decided one year that we would have a garden, we lived in Texas near Fort Worth. We had a large lot for living in town, our backyard was big, my dad purchased a rototiller and began tilling up about a third of the back yard. The soil there is what we call black gumbo, it is a lot of black clay, it holds moisture but when it dries it becomes hard as a rock.

Both my parents struggled mightily to put in the garden that year and to maintain it, we were always interested in going organic so we didn’t use chemical or artificial fertilizers or pesticides, that was a good start, but the soil was not very good to begin with so we didn’t get a good return on the amount of work they did. In fact, the garden idea fizzled after a couple of years and they let the grass grow back in.

We have come a LONG way since those days, over the years I have learned about mulching, and the organic gardeners are moving away from tilling the ground, rather they are following nature in building good soil, go out into any wooded area, away from trails, on undisturbed ground, dig a little into the soil and notice how, without tilling, without the hand of man, the soil is soft, rich, moist, there are layers, it is full of life. Isn’t that what you want your soil to look like?

The soil should be alive, full of microbes and worms doing a lot of the hard work for you, building the soil. I ran across a great video all about soil building, it’s called “Back to Eden“, and you can watch it free online: http://vimeo.com/28055108
Here are some clips to get you started:

What Back to Eden talks about is not tilling the ground but putting down layers of mulch, organic goodness that starts out on top of the soil but eventually works its way down into the soil, fluffing it up, breaking up hard soil, adding nutrients to the soil and much more. Just as in nature, you continue adding more layers over the years as the deeper layers break down, creating more soil.

I essentially did this with my garden, I’m on a mountain side in the high desert of far west Texas. I have added leaves, grass and humus from under the trees, I have also put down a foot (+/-) of hay, I haven’t tilled the soil since the first year we started the garden, and I can go out there any time of the year and pull back the layers and find moist, soft, fluffy soil, I have next to 0 weeds and the ones that do spring up are so easy to pull out.

I use the Ruth Stout method of gardening, it works the same way, she wrote the “No-Work Garden Book“, it was published ages ago, but her methods are still valid today, she used lots of thick layers of hay and straw, she never tilled and rarely weeded. Her gardens were studied by universities, they laughed at first and said “You can’t do that…”, then after digging a little deeper (pun indented) they realized her methods were sound.

Bottom line, get what you can to use as mulch, leaves, grass clippings (from a non-sprayed yard), straw, hay, newspaper, cardboard, anything that will decompose and start laying it down in your garden, this will begin the process of creating better soil and making less work for you.

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