The older I get, the more interested I am in an easier alternative. Instead, you can keep these two compost materials separate, and apply them in two layers directly to the garden bed. The second alternative is vermicomposting: using earthworms to convert nutrient-dense materials, such as manures, food wastes and green crop residues, into forms usable by plants. Earthworm castings are a major part of my fertility program. I started vermicomposting with a 3-by-4 foot worm bin. Then last year, I converted the center of my greenhouse to a 4-by foot series of bins, 16 inches deep.
My worms process horse manure by the pickup load from a neighbor. Not only do the worm castings feed plant roots, they carry a huge load of beneficial microbes that boost the soil organism community. Tap chicken power to mix organic materials into the soil. Typically, I use electric net fencing to manage my chickens, rotating them from place to place on pasture. I dump whatever organic materials I have handy in piles, and the chickens happily do what they love best — scratch ceaselessly through that material, looking for interesting things to eat.
In the process, they shred it and incorporate it into the top couple inches of soil, the zone of most intense biological activity. Their droppings are scratched in as well, and they give a big boost to the soil microbes. As I explained in the previous article, when you first start gardening, it may be necessary to use rock powders, and other slow-release sources of minerals, to correct mineral deficiencies in the soil.
In the long run, however, you can supply minerals without purchasing inputs. The organic materials we add to our soil supply most of the minerals healthy crops need. The roots of comfrey, for instance, can grow 8 to 10 feet into the subsoil. Stinging nettle is another extremely useful dynamic accumulator. Both nettle and comfrey, in addition to high mineral content, are high in nitrogen. They make excellent additions to a compost heap or can be used as mulches.
If you have some pasture, think of it as a fertility patch par excellence. When growth is fast and lush in the spring, you should be able to take one or two cuttings, perhaps even more, for use in composting or as mulches. In the spring, I allow some areas to grow about 8 or 10 inches before cutting it with the scythe and using it for fertility applications elsewhere. An example is yellow dock Rumex crispus. Why not allow some yellow dock to grow here and there, in edges and corners where it is not in the way?
When the plants start to make seed heads, cut them off just above the crown to prevent huge numbers of seeds from blowing loose in the garden, then use the plants in mulches or composts. Plant cover crops. Growing cover crops is perhaps the most valuable strategy we can adopt to feed our soil, build up its fertility and improve its structure with each passing season.
Freshly killed cover crops provide readily available nutrients for our soil microbe friends and hence for food crop plants. Plus, the channels opened up by the decaying roots of cover crops permit oxygen and water to penetrate the soil. Legumes clovers, alfalfa, beans and peas are especially valuable cover crops, because they fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into forms available to crop plants.
Mixes of different cover crops are often beneficial. For example, in mixes of grasses and clovers, the grasses add a large amount of biomass and improve soil structure because of the size and complexity of their root systems, and the legumes add nitrogen to help break down the relatively carbon-rich grass roots quickly.
Try to work cover crops into your cropping plans with the same deliberation that you bring to food crops. The easy way to do so is to maintain two separate garden spaces: Plant one to food crops and one to cover crops, then alternate the two crops in the following year. But most gardeners cannot devote that much space to such a strategy, so effective cover cropping must be fitted into a unified garden plan, a concept that in practice can get fiendishly complex.
Gardeners who like jigsaw puzzles will love the challenges. There are cover crops that work best for each of the four seasons, and for almost any cropping strategy. Proper soil care reduces the need for tillage. Nurturing soil life by constantly introducing organic matter helps keep a loose and open soil structure. Protect that improved structure by keeping the soil covered at all times. Cover the soil with mulch. An obvious way to keep the soil covered is to use organic mulches.
This is only true, however, if we incorporate these high-carbon sources into the soil. I once tilled in some coarse compost containing large amounts of oak leaves not yet fully decomposed, and found that crops grew quite poorly there the entire season. The mulch retains soil moisture and protects against temperature extremes.
Actually, high-carbon mulches are preferable for weed control to materials that decompose readily, since they persist longer before being incorporated into the soil food web. Every gardener who has used mulches knows the story: You put down a thick layer early in the season, then suddenly one day notice — the garden ate my mulch!
Even so, it is usually necessary to renew mulches that are in place for the entire growing season. Grass clippings should not be lost as a resource — shipping them off to the landfill is a true crime against sustainability. Grass-clippings mulch in paths can be slippery underfoot, and unpleasant to work on. I prefer to let lawn or pasture grasses grow to 8 to 12 inches, then cut them with a scythe, rake them up after a couple days of drying, and apply where needed.
An undervalued source of organic matter is the wood fiber in newspapers and cardboard.
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Wood chips also make good mulch for some situations, especially for pathways and kill mulches, and they often are free from tree-trimming services. Use permanent beds and paths. A key strategy for protecting soil structure is to grow in wide permanent beds and restrict foot traffic to the pathways — thus avoiding compaction in the growing areas — and to plant as closely as possible in the beds. Close planting shades the soil surface, which benefits both soil life and plants by conserving moisture and moderating temperature extremes. You also can use paths to grow your mulches, or mulch the paths and take advantage of foot traffic to help shred or grind materials such as straw or leaves.
From time to time, this finely shredded material can be transferred to the beds, where it will break down much more readily than in its coarser forms. Try low-tech tillage. Even in the case of cover crops, which must give way to the planting of a harvest crop, it is not necessary to turn them into the soil, as usually recommended. Instead, consider these alternatives.
You can bury the cover crop under a heavy mulch to kill it. If the soil is in loose, friable condition, it is easy to pull the cover plants up by the roots and lay them on the bed as mulch. Certain plants such as rye and vetch are difficult to kill without tillage, but cutting them immediately above the crowns after seed stalks or flowers form will kill them. Use the upper ends of the plants as a mulch to help break down the roots more rapidly. If you have chickens, you can use them to till in your cover crops. There are matters of time, if not personal dignity, that dictate for each of us to what extent we are willing to go to maximize our resources.
That can change from time to time given the personal challenges that we face. Take dumpster diving, for example. I draw the line at any activity that requires me to climb into and root around containers filled with trash that is destined for the landfill. However, if my children were starving, I have no doubt that I would experience a miraculous change of heart. All that to say that, generally, I am not one who could easily be convinced to make dirt.
This method to fill garden beds is dirt cheap
The earth seems to be well endowed. Prior to last weekend, I would have suggested that if you ever run out of dirt, you can buy the stuff by the bag at any garden center. I did that. I bought a bag of dirt for planting vegetables. There is a law of nature that dictates all organic matter eventually dies, decomposes and returns to the earth in the form of dirt. It is a fascinating process—one that generates its own heat and can be controlled almost to the point of perfection. You know all those grass clippings, leaves and other kinds of yard waste that you put in the trash?
How about the potato peelings, coffee grounds and other kitchen refuse you pay to have hauled away? With little effort, you could benefit from those items decomposing and in the end produce rich, nutritious, odor-free soil that will regenerate and enrich your garden and other landscape—for free. Step 1. To get started, you need a container or an open area in your yard to begin a compost pile.
A small rubber garbage can works well, but you will need to punch holes in it, as the microbes that actually do the composting need oxygen to do their work. Step 2.
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Chop plant debris and other materials into small pieces and place them inside the garbage can. Ideally, you should use 50 percent green material and 50 percent dry, but you can use shredded newspaper for the dry material, if necessary. Step 3.
Spray water over the chopped plant material inside the can, until the material is damp but not soggy. Best way is if there is new construction home or businesses that involves the digging of basements nearby they also might refer you to someone else if they cant help you- these guys have contacts, they are in the business and look out for each other. Just ask and you will havr more fill dirt than you need.
You can also put ads on craigslist but start looking months before you need it. Might also call pool install companies. I just got about 30 dump truck loads delivered. We had a patio put in last year. Part of the cost included having the landscaper haul off the 9" or so of soil they had to dig out. Obviously that soil went somewhere, and aside from some rocks and perhaps some random bits of whatever that backyards might contain, it was clean. I suggest anyone looking for fill soil contact some area landscapers who do patios and ask them if they can take some off their hands.
Have you tried DirtSeek. They have postings everywhere. My wife and I use it all the time to find fill dirt, we just make a post and since we are signed up we get notified of postings in our area. She's always designing stuff for the house so we use quite often. I highly recommend you check it out.
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Learn more. Sign In. Join as a Pro. Ultimate Rug Sale. Ultimate Bar Stool Sale. Ultimate Vanity Sale. Ultimate Outdoor Sale. Frugal Gardening. Where can I find 'free fill' or free dirt? Copperlilac March 8, Thanks in advance! Email Save Comment 45 Like 1. Comments I cannot offer you any suggestions on where to get it, but I will say this.
Soil is a valuable resource and finding it for free would be a red flag for me. My two cents worth. Excellent point. Thank you Also, what does the term "Clean Fill" mean. Hi CopperLilac: My suggestion is avoid all free fill. Clean Fill means free of debris, such as broken glass, rocks and free of chemicals.
Many places that have "Free fill" have contaminated soil with the above. Thanks so much! Like Save March 16, I'm glad i could help. Happy gardening, now we just need some decent weather lol. Like Save January 4, Like Save February 21, Thanks Cindy. Like Save May 20, Like Save June 11, Like Save June 24, Like Save June 25, Like Save August 27, Hello Jollyrd, Just wondering, do you still have fill dirt that you need to get rid of? Like Save March 18, Like Save April 29, Like Save June 7, Like Save June 19, Like Save June 22, Don't listen to people stating about "why would someone be giving away valuable topsoil?
THere is no where else to place it on my property. Like Save February 1, Like Save March 9, Like Save June 8, Like Save June 9, A few thoughts: 1. Like Save July 16, Like Save April 8, last modified: April 8, Angel Catala. You can come pick up all the soil you want for free. Valrico Florida.
Fine Alternatives to Tillage
Like Save April 9, I have some soil for free. Valrico fl.. Like Save April 11, Like Save May 12, I have soil for taken away for free if you want it. Like Save May 30, Mark Windsor. Like Save June 2, Kay Watson.