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We know that soil is crucial to healthy crops, tastier, more nutritious food, and a cleaner environment. What do you do to grow and feed healthy soil?
I'm trying to reform a vacant lot of city dirt using a cover crop of winter rye. We'll build raised beds in the spring, because the soil won't be good enough. What else should I do once we turn under the rye?

Tags: compost, cover, crops, fertilizer, minerals, remediation, soil

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I use all sorts of things, not too sure what is readily available in the city though. You can make compost, which is pretty much the number one best thing for your soil. No compost = no worms... things I love to add to my compost pile are seaweed, grass clippings, manure, raked leaves (oak must be chopped up first), and of course any (UNCOOKED) food scraps you can get your hands on. Cooked food will attract rats. Also, a good thing to do with egg shells is rinse them with hot water and crush them up very fine before composting them, it speeds the process up immensely since egg shells take FOREVER to break down!

Something else that might be a good idea for the city garden might be what is called a "lasagna garden". Also called the no-till method... it takes out a few very labor intensive chores, and builds a very healthy soil! Not sure if it's something you'd be interested in but it's worth a gander anyways!
Drive out to a farm and purchase a dump truck load of healthy farm soil. Fill your raised beds with the farm soil. That is your best bet. Add your compost to the fresh from the farm soil. I wouldn't trust the dirt on a vacant city lot for vegetable growing. You do not know what kind of toxic waste the soil is trying to rid itself of.
Before there were auto's, city farmers used to gather horse manure from the street and help the local stable get rid of there straw and manure. Some people still think horse manure is still the best. Is there a farm, racetrack, police stable near by?
When I put in a new raised bed I build the frame then treat it as a compost bin by layering raw compost materials alternating with soil, ground egg shells , and wood ash. Since I'm landlocked I utilize pond weed instead of seaweed. Since I now raise meat rabbits I place the cages over an open bed so there's direct manure deposits.
I also harvest earth worms from other areas of my city lot & transplant them into the new bed.
Thank you, everyone. This is all fantastic information! Would love to hear more. I'll keep you posted on my city "back forty". :)
we use a lot of compost. Some we make on our farm and some we buy from a USDA certified organic compost maker who lives about 30 miles north of us and can deliver it by the semi load.

We also make use of weeds-cut them down before the go to seed and they make great green manure and the beauty of it this is the seed is free, you did not have to do any soil prep or planting. the plants come up all on their own. And what is even better is the fact that "weeds" generally have up to 100x more nutrients packed into their bodied than domestic cultivated plants such as rye or buckwheat.

We also use grass clippings, leaves and straw as mulch on our beds which adds a lot of organic matter ans well as nutrients

And we do plant cover crops such as annual rye, buckwheat, various clovers, etc.. the kind of cover crop/green manure you plant really depends on where you are located, what time of year it is (many are are winter hardy but many are not) as well as what you want to do for your soil.


manure is great for soil as well.

And perhaps the most important factor is time. It takes between 5 and 15 years to get soils healthy again.
We give all of our kitchen scraps and yard waste (except anything that's toxic like rhubarb, apricot/cherry leaves, etc) to our chickens and goats and let them take care of it. They turn it and shred it and deposit their manure. At the end of the year, but before the rains really start, we scrape out the run and put all that lovely compost on the beds.
Now, to make a visit to the city police stables! They'll be happy to get rid of their manure, right? :)

Early winter we picked up some horse manure at the local stables. They use rice hulls for bedding, which is mixed throughout. We were primarily using the manure for our mushroom bed but had some extra and dumped it on one of our vegetable beds. The manure broke down, but there is a nice thick layer of rice hulls on the bed. To my surprise, the hulls did an amazing job keeping the moisture content high in the soil. It wasn't good at blocking weeds, but that's fine since we direct seed.

That's what I would call a happy coincidence.


On a somewhat related note, Rachel...What should I be looking for in a "landscaping fabric" to keep the contaminants in my city soil from leaching up into my raised bed garden soil? Does it come in rolls? If I get a blank stare at the garden center, I want to be able to describe its characteristics. Thanks for your help!


Rachel said:

Early winter we picked up some horse manure at the local stables. They use rice hulls for bedding, which is mixed throughout. We were primarily using the manure for our mushroom bed but had some extra and dumped it on one of our vegetable beds. The manure broke down, but there is a nice thick layer of rice hulls on the bed. To my surprise, the hulls did an amazing job keeping the moisture content high in the soil. It wasn't good at blocking weeds, but that's fine since we direct seed.

There's a couple of different kinds. I would probably suggest going to a contractor's building supply store (not HD or Lowes though) rather than a nursery and getting filter fabric such as the type they use to wrap drain rock to keep soil from infiltrating.
OK, thank you so much! I know the kind of place you suggest, and I'll use those words so I sound fully expert and in command! :) Looking forward to sharing the first photos of this urban garden we're building. Finally some real growing space!

Rachel said:
There's a couple of different kinds. I would probably suggest going to a contractor's building supply store (not HD or Lowes though) rather than a nursery and getting filter fabric such as the type they use to wrap drain rock to keep soil from infiltrating.

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