We're unsure what spurs on the big spring clean out, but something notable happens at this time of the year that makes us geared for dusting, sweeping and clearing out the cobwebs from the closet (both the physical and proverbial). It's like waking up from the zombie apocalypse and with blood running through our veins once again, life returns and we suddenly notice the mess that once controlled us.
The spring garden clean out is equally as alluring as we get set for life to return to the veggie patch. Overgrown, under-loved and now in need of a helping hand, it's important to realise that before life returns to the neglected pots or patch of earth that you call a 'garden', we need to revitalise life that once existed below.
We hate sounding patronising, but here we go anyway: "Everybody knows that to grow food you first need to grow your soil....". Oh you didn't? Well, that's because soil is the single most important piece of garden infrastructure we have - or had, before you let it die - and to garden successfully and more easily, it is all about getting this alive and kicking. You're planting may have to wait.
The best gardeners are those with the best routines. Morning water on the patch, small dosages of compost every month or so, mulching well, perhaps a tonic of liquid seaweed extract every few weeks - basically all the things that help to feed and protect your assets below. If you do those simple things routinely, there is never any need to replace soil because soil needn't be thrown away like a spent material.
But being an imperfect gardener is far more our style. Typically the garden, and your soil, is hugely neglected for long periods throughout the year. Our routine wanes according to the push and pulls of family, work + life, and so it is often left unwatered, unfed and unmulched. However it's now spring and you want to get onboard again. We don't blame you, so here's how.
It may seem superfluous, but rehydrating the bare patch of earth or a bunch of weeds is the first step to making it conducive to life again. In a handful of soil there are more micro-organisms than people on the planet earth and so despite your neglect, some will still remain below and it's time to be kind to them.
If you have been neglecting a series of pots, you can repair the mix by allowing the pots to sit in water and rehydrate through capillary action. This is easier with smaller pots than larger vessels, but by placing the pots in a pool of water it will allow the soil to pull moisture through it - from the bottom that is least effected by the neglect, all the way to the surface.
Note: don't first pull out the weeds - because you'll probably pull out the entire lot of baked soil with them - hydration is the first step.
Activate your soil by incorporating worms/worm castings to your soil. This adds invaluable good bacteria to the mix and essentially brings it to life. Worm castings are known as the great soil conditioner, meaning that they allow easier passage of good nutrition in the soil to the plants. By having worms in the soil they also aerate the patch and allow it to breathe - which is essential for all life!
We also recommend adding a sprinkle of rock minerals, which will supplement your plants’ needs for trace elements that may be lacking. Rock minerals are a slow release food for the micro organisms that live within the soil. They get hungry too!
After a period of inactivity, or maybe a hard winter slugging away at the brassicas, your soil will need a boost. Much like Popeye needs his spinach, every veggie patch needs its compost. Good compost is perfectly pH balanced, will not burn your plants and is teeming full of life. You’re heard the saying “Too much of a good thing”? Well that doesn’t apply when it comes to compost, so add liberally. We recommend one 30L bag over a 1m2 of garden.
If using your own home brew compost make sure it is well broken down and be aware that some rouge seeds will no doubt sprout from it. Hopefully they’re the one from the heirloom tomatoes you grew last year.
In addition to compost you may need to add some stronger nutrition, in the form of manures, particularly if you’re making a tilt at the hungrier crops. All fruiting vegetables require big reserves of nitrogen to produce large, bushy plants that can then cope with production. Integrating well rotted chook manure or cow manure will restore healthy levels of nitrogen, and blood and bone is also recommended for its boost in phosphorous, which aids strong root development.
Bare in mind that some fertilisers can alter the pH balance in the soil, so be sure to measure the levels before planting.
Your plants’ roots appreciate it when the soil is kept at a consistent temperature. For warm season crops it needs to be around the 20 degree mark and if the earth is being baked and cooled on repeat, it makes the growing proposition all that more stressful. This is why mulch is so important, because adding this protective layer to the soil helps to insulate it and keep the temperature below stable. The best time to mulch is once your soil has arrived at a temperature that suits your incoming plants. Rather than sticking your finger in and then holding it to the breeze, there are simple soil thermometers that take out the guesswork.
Now that you’ve rehabilitated your soil, it should now be ready for planting. With the soil rehydrated, reactivated, fed and now stabilised at a balmy temperature all the spring crops will happily greet you at the gates of the patch.