Garden Spotlight: Soil Improvement

As I did four previous places where I had newly moved, when Julie and I bought Merrymoss in 2015 I began a garden.  From scratch.

When it comes to a garden, “from scratch” means tearing up part of the yard.  One never knows what he will get.  I’ve been greeted by quite the variety, from sandy soil to hard clay.  In Montague, I learned the hard way that, back in the day, people buried their trash.  I was regularly pulling cans and bottles from the garden.

At Merrymoss, I found decent dirt, but it was on the hard side.  It had not been touched, perhaps ever, but certainly not since the lawn was created in the mid ’50s when the house was built.  When a lawn, not only does the ground compact, it never gets fresh material added, which both improves the soil and adds air to it, making it lighter.

In the autumn of 1985, after my first year of my first new garden, I rototilled into the garden the maple leaves from our front yard trees.  It seemed impossible that the mess they were after the first pass of the tiller would result in their being completely mixed in and decomposed by the time I planted in the spring.

But, they did, and, wow, did they ever improve the soil.  So, I kept at it, and everywhere I’ve lived I’ve had trees which provide me with leaves.

At Merrymoss, we have a front yard oak tree.  Oak leaves do not decompose quickly, and their make-up isn’t as good for the soil as most other leaves.  So, I rake and bag those.  Our back yard has four large trees, as seen, below, from a photo from last summer: a beech, two maples, and a tulip tree.

The fallen leaves need to be moved.  A good method helps to make the work go smoothly, and it goes more quickly than I think it will when I undertake it each autumn.

I have found that using a tarp works more quickly than filling bags or a container.  As I rake and pile leaves, it is easy to rake a mess onto the tarp.

I gather the four corners and twist them into a handle.  It drags easily.

I head around the house and to the front yard.

The tarp dumps easily onto the ground.  I proceed to kick out the leaves, to fairly evenly cover the soil, two to four inches thick.

I didn’t count the number of tarps it took.  I think it was between 16 and 20. The next photo shows the covered garden before rototilling.  The second shot is after I ran the tiller over it one time.

It hardly appears that I got any leaves into the soil.  This close-up shows a nice mixture of dirt and leaves, which will help the process of decomposing.  If the weather permits, in a week or two I will rototill one more time before winter.

In the spring, many leaves will still be evident, but after one rototilling they will break down quickly.  The soil will look mostly like dirt.  By May, and one or two more tillings, no more leaves will be evident, but the ground will be lighter, more airy, and richer.

And, oh, how the worms will love it, and worms are very important to soil health!

I’ll provide photos in the spring.  Now, for the next four months to pass smoothly . . .

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