Winter Chores: Preparing The Garden Soil

After last year, our first year having a garden, we determined to do things much better this year.  We kind of threw our garden together at the last minute last year.  On the bright side we did learn a lot out of our failures.  Not everything was a failure. We did get a better harvest than we expected from the haphazard way we threw our garden together.  But this year is going to be different, we hope.

We have done a lot of things to fix our pH, which we believe to have been a major problem with our garden last year.  In the fall, we burned a large pile of brush we had collected and spread the ash over the garden.  We also tilled in a bag of lime.  At last check, our pH was between 6.0 and 6.5.  A huge improvement over the 5.0 we had in the fall.

Next, we decided that we needed more organic matter.  Lots of compost.  We built a compost bin last summer and have done a good job of throwing in our waste in the bin.  Unfortunately, we had a lot more grass clippings and not enough leaves and vegetable waste to make a good balance for composting.  It also did not get turned as regularly as it should have, and the biggest problem I think was that it was not wet enough most of the year.  So, due to those factors, we have not gotten very much home made compost to add to the garden.

Our plan was to purchase several bags of compost from Lowe’s to make up the difference.  Then one day, as I was perusing the “Free” section of Craig’s List, I came across an add for free fresh horse manure compost.  Just come and get it, or they would load it for you for $5 a scoop.  This sounded great, so I was planning on driving about 20 minutes to go pick some up.

Then we had an epiphany.  Our neighbors have three horses.  The horse poop has to go somewhere.  Ann messaged our neighbor and the response we got was an immediate “Call me!!!!”.  Long story short, they were very happy to get rid of some horse manure.

They had been dumping their horse manure in some woods behind their house for years.  So, I took the truck over and loaded it up with some of the oldest horse manure I could easily reach.

Truck load of free organic matter for our garden.

It took most of the day to load and unload this pile with a shovel, but in the end we had enough to cover our garden with a light dusting.  I was hoping for a lot more, but this would have to do.

The horses were giving me the stink eye (pun intended) as I spread their waste.

Then I tilled it all in to help it break down.  This manure was well aged so I do not worry about it burning our seeds and plants, but we have 30 days or so before the first seeds go in the garden this year. That should be plenty of time for it to mellow in the dirt. Fresh horse manure can burn plants and seeds, so it is a good idea to put it in early, or compost it before adding it to the garden soil.    On top of that we got a nice light rain the next morning, which I would assume would help it break down.

All tilled and raked, the soil looks great. You can see the winter onions growing in the bottom of the picture.

Next, I will give it a couple weeks, then test the pH and the nutrients in the soil one final time before planting.  I have read that horse manure can lower the pH of the soil, but this was pretty well aged, so lets hope all the tests come back good, because we can not wait to get some seeds in the ground.  Gardening can be addictive!