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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Soil - They Key to healthy plants!

People sometimes ask me why my plants grow so nice.   They say "I must have a green thumb".  I can assure you,  my thumb isn't green and I have killed my share of plants.  It wasn't until I realized that preparing the soil is the key to having healthy plants.      Healthy soil takes a lot of work - and some investment.  There is a saying that you should spend 10 times the amount of money on your soil that you do on the plants or seeds.     The soil is Riverside CA has a lot of clay.   The good thing about clay is that is holds water, but the bad thing about clay is that it holds water.   Most plants like to have damp roots - but when they sit it wet soil for too long, the roots will begin to rot which will stunt or kill the plant.     They key to good soil is Compost, Compost, Compost!.   Adding compost to your soil will allow air and water to move through the soil - especially if theres a lot of clay in your soil.    Even if you don't have clay, compost will still help.  Its a way of improving the fertility of your soil with having to add chemical fertilizers.

I usually will start by adding compost is a 50/50 ratio.  Half soil/half compost.   Then every time I turn the soil to add plants, remove dead plants,  I add more compost at 10-20% compost depending on the condition of the soil     Compost is made by taking plant material - and allowing it to decompose, usually heating the compost pile enough to kill weed seeds and insect larvae.  It should be nice a black and have a earthy smell.

Double digging is also recommended, but I don't double dig.   Its a great way to burn you out on preparing your soil.  Double digging requires you to remove the top 8-10 inches of soil - set it aside, the dig compost into the subsoil.    Then you add compost to the pile of soil from the upper levels and return the soil to the hole.   This requires a lot of work and you can only get a small section done.   It's a great way to improve your soil, but I have 2.5 acres.  I would never get anything planted because I would be double digging all the time.

Here are some pictures of compost.

 Here is how much I added to each row before I tilled the compost in.


After a couple years of constantly adding compost,  your soil will become nice and rich.  It will become black and will dig up easily.  You will be able to squeeze it together and i will feel like a sponge, but break apart when you drop it.   If your soil is heavy clay, it would stay together in clump when you drop it, and will dry into hard clumps.   
Here is a picture of some soil that I have been working on for two years.   You can see there are still pieces of organic material in the soil which is good.   At this point, I will start soil testing and adding organic ingredients to correct any deficiencies.   I wouldn't waste the money on soil testing until after a year or two of amending the soil with compost.   A soil test will ask you to add a bunch of chemical fertilizers - which compost will do naturally.  


If you want to buy large amounts of compost -  you can get if from Growers choice in Menifee by the truckload.  If you want smaller bags, you can get some really nice compost at CPS (Crop Productions Services) on 3rd street.  Its just a block south of Vine and on the other side of the railroad tracks on 3rd street in  downtown Riverside.  Its called Superior compost and doesn't contain sewage waste.   Its about $4.00 a bag and they will load the bags for you.