Dirt, Worms and Composting

The Southern Nevada Water Authority says on their website that our native soil contains a small amount of organic matter.  HA! Maybe in some lush green park or the grassy area at a casino, but not our yard. Unless you count some long dead dog or cat that the previous owner buried years ago. Their website also says many of the nutrients needed to support plant life are missing. By many they mean most. What we decided to do was remove as much of the native soil as we could and build our own.

Now I have a ton of reference material on gardening. A lot of the books talk about amending the soil, but very few talk about starting from scratch. Since that’s exactly what I wanted to do I needed to come up with a soil formula that would not only support plants I decided to plant, but native plants as well.  The first thing I knew I would need was organic matter, contrary to what the water authority says. Another name for organic matter is compost. We will discuss compost in detail later, but for now we know we need to add compost or organic matter to our beds.

When I was a kid I use to be very jealous of my mother and my older sister because of the way they could grow house plants. If I bring a plant In the house, within days it will be dead. I’m not sure why, I’ve since realized I should stick with growing outdoors. Back to what I was saying, my mom use to say that good soil makes all the difference. She would add peat moss to her house plant soil. She told me it helps the soil to be lighter and have better water retention. That got me to thinking about peat moss in my garden. I decided to look into the benefits of peat moss, this is what I found.

Most websites I found did in fact say that most gardeners use peat moss as a soil amendment for potting soil. It holds several times its weight in moisture and releases the moisture to plant roots as needed. WELL, THAT SOUNDS AMAZING! Especially in the desert where water is at a premium. Peat moss doesn’t compact or breakdown quickly, one application of peat moss lasts for several years. This all sounds like exactly what I need. Then I found more information that made me hesitate about the peat moss. There is apparently some controversy over the use of peat moss, because its not a long-term sustainable resource (who knew). Even though it is organic peat is being used and mined faster than it can be produced. There are dwindling natural supplies and bog (yes, it’s harvested from bogs. Nope, I didn’t know that either) destruction is evidence of a supply problem. This can lead to a number of problems including changing or destruction of natural habitats for animals. AAAAAHHHHH!!!!! Why did I have to find that out!

The last thing I wanted to add to my soil is Vermiculite. I’m going to tell you that vermiculite is mica like rocks. It comes in various sizes for various sized gardens. It has a technical name, blah blah blah. If you want to get some all you need to tell the guy at the nursery is you want vermiculite. So what does vermiculite do you ask?. Well, it also helps with water retention, it helps plants to easily absorb various minerals and it helps keep your soil well aerated. It has a lot of other uses too that we will probably discuss in future blogs, like working with root cuttings and seedlings.

Ok, so now I know what I want for soil. I’m still struggling with the peat moss issue, but I rationalize it knowing I won’t have to amend with peat moss as often since it last longer than other soils. I mixed my ingredients on a large tarp with a pitchfork (muah ha ha ha). I used 16 cubic feet for my two raised beds. That broke down like this; 2 full bales of peat moss, 4 big bags of vermiculite and the rest compost. It was actually quite easy when I finally worked it out. Now my soil isn’t limited to just native growing plants. I can literally grow anything, except in the summer. Special allowances have to be made for summer since we get so dang hot. One of the things I did was put my garden on the backside of the house so it only gets the morning sun. It still gets hot back there, but at least the afternoon sun isn’t beating down on it.

Lets talk a little about worms. We didn’t have any. Does that surprise anyone? It didn’t surprise me, our ground was so hard there was no way the little guys could have survived. How did I solve this problem? I sent my husband to a bait shop, they keep them there on ice for fishermen. I sent him for earthworms. He came back with nightcrawlers……. I made a joke about X-Men, he just looked at me like I was crazy. The bait shop was out of earthworms, don’t worry if that happens. Nightcrawlers are apparently the same only bigger. They were also never part of the circus……..

So now I needed something to feed my little friends so that they would make me amazing soil. Everyone talks about composting and big composting bins. Watering, mixing, turning… UGH no thanks. I went to Bed Bath and Beyond, I bought a kitchen composting bucket with charcoal filter(that part is VERY important). EVERYTHING organic goes in the bucket. Everything except meat and dairy. Once a week or truthfully when I remember, we dig a hole in the garden and dump it In. I don’t have to worry about small animals like bunnies or raccoons, so that makes it so much easier. No turning or mixing, it’s available right then for the worms to eat and poop, eat and poop, eat and…… Well you get the idea. The composting bucket that I have is pretty amazing, at least the filter is. I’m pretty sure no one has emptied it for about 3 weeks. The charcoal filter keeps the kitchen from smelling like rotten veggies. Once you start using it, it will become second nature. We also recycle as well as compost so our actual trash is cut way down. I think the trash can gets emptied once or twice a week.

A couple of final thoughts on worms. Don’t over water or flood your garden. The worms can drown. Yep, found that out the hard way 😦 Also if you never had birds in your yard before you’ll have them now. Get a bird feeder, it helps distract the birds from the worms they really want to eat.

That’s my soil story and I’m sticking to it. Enjoy your day. If you have any questions or comments about the soil, worms or composting let me know. I’ll do my best to answer In a timely manner. Have a great day and follow your own path.

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