My friend Elizabeth’s no-till garden needs some help. Though it’s quite productive, there is a layer of hardpan just beneath it which she is now breaking up with a broadfork as you can see in my recent video:
Beyond that, however, she just got a soil test back and the results are almost as bad as they were in my garden. She took samples from the dirt beneath her mulch layer and sent them in for testing, and the test showed a marked lack of almost all macro and micronutrients.
I called her last night and we talked about possible solutions.
First, the broadforking through the hardpan that she started is obviously a good idea. Roots and soil life need to move deeper than they currently are. Putting channels into the soil mechanically will have an impact. She shared with me that her garden is loaded with fungi, which is great. They love those decaying mulch chips and will make nutrients more available to plants. She also told me that she has a good worm population, despite them being too shy to appear on video.
The cracking of the hardpan fixes the mechanical portion of the problem. The soil life helps with the biological. But the final slice of the pie is the mineral problem. Elizabeth’s garden needs better nutrition.
Dropping a ton of mulch will add some nutrition to a garden; however, when the mulch is coming from similar soil which is also depleted, I cannot see it filling in the missing elemental gaps.
What her soil needs to fill those gaps is a serious mix of nutrients. Like this:
As Elizabeth would rather not add cottonseed meal – which is the main nitrogen source in Steve Solomon’s fertilizer mix – we’ll drop that and put together a batch without it. Nitrogen is one of the easiest things to source for the garden and it does not have to come from cottonseed meal which may contain chemical pesticides.
Once the minerals are in the system, they will be able to cycle through the plants. If they’re not there to begin with, your crops will not have the nutrition they should, either for growing or when you eat them.
The staves in the barrel must be repaired.
Don’t get me wrong: this is already a productive garden. In the video it looks thin because we filmed in November. Earlier in the year, before two hurricanes, it was abundant. That will just get better once the hardpan is broken and a broad mix of minerals are added.
I firmly believe that this garden will be insanely productive in 2021, thanks to Elizabeth’s constant experimentation and adjustment of her techniques.