Soil types differ in different areas. Growing plants rob the soil of nutrients. Uncovered soil erodes in wind and water. Your soil is one of a gardener’s most valuable resources. Take good care of it. Better soil-better harvest!

Two Stories About Lost Treasure

In the 1930’s the midwestern United States was in a drought. Anywhere there was bare dirt, the land was at the mercy of constant windstorms that eventually blew away the topsoil. Families that otherwise could have survived a stock market crash had to abandon farms that would no longer produce food. There is more about that part of history here.

What better practices need to be in place to hold soil during a drought? What does this mean for my little annual vegetable garden?

After we had gardened in the same spot for about 10 years and had worked really hard (and learned a lot) to make our clay soil envious garden soil, we built a home for Cameron’s mom and dad on our 1 acre property. Not knowing what else to do with all those piles of dirt, we spread them out over our gardens and had to start over with clay soil again.

Better Soil-Better Harvest

We knew that the first couple of years after we dumped clay on our garden soil, we wouldn’t get much for a harvest but we also knew that the soil needed the plants growing in it to become better soil. That’s when we divided the garden in half and gave half of it to the chickens. The full story is here.

Using the things that we had learned about building better soil, it only took 2 seasons to get a better harvest of root crops like potatoes, carrots and beets. Other vegetables like lettuce, peas and green beans did well right away and our harvests have improved in the seasons since.

Montana Bowl of Cherries
Look at the abundant garden we got from last year’s chicken yard.

Some Basic Rules for Better Soil-Better Harvest

  • Keep soil covered. We use grass clippings as mulch around plants and to cover bare areas of the garden where we have harvested. Rake leaves in the spring instead of the fall to cover bare areas all winter. Newspapers also work well for mulching bare areas.
  • Don’t plant the same vegies in the same garden area every year. We avoid this by trading places with the chickens every fall.
  • Make and use compost in perennial areas. The beneficial insects and earthworms that live in compost piles can replenish and bring oxygen to soil that isn’t dug every season.
  • Replace nutrients that plants use in the soil. All of the ideas above help to replenish the soil. Some sort of organic matter needs to be dug or tilled into the soil on a regular basis to ensure a continued better harvest. Even if the soil is good soil in the first place.
Montana Bowl of Cherries- Squash harvest

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Rhonda Brown lives in rural eastern Montana, surrounded by her family, chickens, gardens and dog. When she isn't writing or weeding, she loves spending time with her family, baking, and all things CHOCOLATE.


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