low-water 'superfood' soil mix for gardening success (with bat guano)
Originally published on TheHomestead.Guru
Every good gardener who’s been at it awhile, knows that success starts in your garden’s soil.
What’s the difference between soil and dirt?
Dirt and soil seem like interchangeable terms, but really they’re not.
Soil has living matter in it–microbes, earthworms, nematodes, and other organisms that indicate the “dirt” is not just parched, dead matter.
How do you change dirt into soil?
Add organic matter - and use cardboard! Compost and mulch, specifically. You can layer on 2-12 inches (or MORE) of compost to your existing soil.
If you’ve got an area that’s full of unwanted green things growing already, you can layer cardboard over the top, and then apply a thick layer of compost. That way, the cardboard and compost will suffocate the weeds underneath, and they will compost in place as the cardboard breaks down.
We did this in our large peach orchard area, which previously had really awful, light-colored dirt….and now, four years later, you can dig down quite deep and still have nothing in your hands but rich, black soil (and earthworms - always a sign of healthy soil).
Incidentally, new research shows that the soil microbes die en masse whenever the soil is disturbed, so it’s actually better NOT to till.
The 45+ year gardening careers of Charles Dowding and Stephanie Hafferty can attest to this: NoDig Gardening
What if you just want a soil mix for raised beds?
What if you’re lousy about remembering to water, or live in a dry area?
For raised beds, we use a mixture of peat moss, natural soil amendments, and compost. It’s not perfect, but this recipe is working really well in our Texas garden.
» It’s now been over 5 years of using this soil mix - and our plants have been able to survive the most brutal heat and droughts. I’m sold on it!
How to make a ‘superfood’ low-water soil mix for your raised bed garden:
First, set up a kiddie pool near your compost pile (or bags, or bins, etc).
Make sure it’s in an area where you can use a wheelbarrow, and easily move it between here and your garden area. (This is important for later).
Now, get one cube of compressed peat moss. They’re usually about $10, and weigh 60-70 lbs.
Add enough water to the kiddie pool to get the peat moss evenly wet. It will take more than you think - water, mix, and water again - probably 3x.
Then let it soak overnight.
Peat moss comes compressed, and very dry - so it can hold a LOT of water. That’s why it’s a great choice for areas that get a lot of heat and sunshine.
The next day, check on the soaked peat moss, and add more water again if it seems dry!
Then, add the following amendments to the kiddie pool and mix well with a shovel:
1-4 cups of Azomite (trace minerals, also called rock dust)
2-8 cups worm castings (or more, if you have it!)
1 cup silica amendment (why?)
1 tsp mycorrhizae
This year, we added a super-secret ingredient to the mix–bat guano!
Bat guano is about the most concentrated source of nitrogen and minerals you can find. And yes, climbing into a cave WAS involved in obtaining this ingredient!
Bat guano is whitish, extremely dense, and heavy–so a little goes a long way.
We added about 1/2 of a cup of bat guano to an old bucket, added water from the hose, and swirled it around until we had a thick, milky substance to add to the peat moss mixture. You will also see shiny, undigested insect parts when you dilute the bat guano.
Now you’re ready to fill your raised beds!
Get your wheelbarrow, and start shovelling until it’s full.
Add 1 shovel of the mix from the kiddie pool, for every 2 shovels of compost.
You want 1/3 of the total bed volume to be amended peat moss, and 2/3 of the bed to be pure compost.
Once your wheelbarrow is near full, mix it up a bit, and you’re ready to add it to your raised beds.
We have found this mix to grow hardy plants that thrive, even without watering much, and through the Texas summer heat.
If you want to achieve garden perfection, top-dress with your organic (free!) fertilizer of choice.
Finally, cover the surface with a mulch of 1-2 inches of hay or wood chips.
Tell me how your gardens are growing in the comments, please…