Okay, so I don't have a garden so far. There's still frost in the ground, and the moisture from the snowmelt isn't gone yet. When the frost is gone, I have to drive some t-posts in for my combination deer fence/trellis.
Right now I'm just waiting for the first crop of weeds to pop up so I can till. In the meantime I'm spraying compost tea once a week to rebuild the soil, and letting last year's leaves rot in a bit. I think I might buy a couple or four yards of compost from a commercial place as well. And rock dust, if I can find a decent (not crazy expensive) source around here.
Compost, in tea or dirt form, replenishes the microbes in the soil, but rock dust replenishes the minerals. Plants need both to be successful.
The soil in the garden has been depleted for at least 20 years, but I've managed to keep it going just enough to keep planting. The problem is that I start from scratch every year...the plants use up whatever nutrients I manage to get into the soil in the spring. I really need to break that cycle, so I'm planning on going overboard this year...plenty of tea all year (5-10 gallons a week), along with whatever leaves and grass clippings I can get. Then in the fall more leaves and whatever manure I've managed to get my hands on.
The reason the soil is so depleted? The history of this lot (and eight others) is that it was Catholic Mission property from the late 1800's until the early 1940's. It sat vacant until Canada entered the Second World War in 1939, and was used as a community victory garden until 1944, when the Catholic church divided the property into nine lots and sold them. A man named Moore built this house with used lumber pilfered from the CN rail yards. The story is that they even "borrowed" a CN truck to haul the stolen lumber in. It isn't an uncommon story around here, since the community basically formed as a place for railway workers to live and expanded during and after the war. Throw in that building materials were hard to get during the war, and it all makes sense.
The garden has been there ever since 1939 though, and the soil here was pretty marginal to begin with. Before the two sections of land immediately around here had houses and roads, it was considered poor pasture and definitely not suitable for crop land. That seems odd, since so much of the land in this province is so rich, but it's just one of those little pockets that was never very good.
The real kicker is that the field immediately behind my property is pretty good soil because CN cleared it of bush and used it to keep (and feed) livestock back there until sometime in the 1920's. The manure and left-over hay enriched the soil enough that it was decent pasture until the 60's or early 70's, which helped build it further. Since then it has been vacant, switching hands between the city and various land speculators, but never being developed. It's basically a mix of native prairie grasses and whatever seeds have blown in, and I hope it stays vacant.
Anyway, I grew tired of fighting with the soil in my garden. I had a few choices. I could bring in loads and loads of top soil for a quick fix, I could plant it all to trees like my neighbour to the east did, seed it to grass like the neighbour to the west, or I could rebuild it.
My first impulse was to bring in soil, but I started researching ways to rehabilitate marginal land naturally, and it looked kind of fun. Not only that, but it's a lot cheaper and the labour is spread out over time. Planting is part of the process too, so I get veggies while I'm doing it. Basically it's an experiment.
The basic process is to feed it lots of natural nutrients. I've opted for compost tea because it's cheap and easy and stretches out the available compost a long way. It also works directly with the existing soil, which should help build a good base for later amendments. As I mentioned before, I might combine this with some commercially-produced compost.
The second part of the plan is to use close planting techniques and companion planting. This is supposed to keep the weeding to a minimum and allow the soil to retain the nutrients better. Traditionally I've planted far apart to leave room for equipment, but the tillage is bad for the soil.
The third part is leaves. Not rocket science...forest floors tend to have very rich top soils because of all the leaves rotting. I've got some out there ready to work into the soil, and I'm looking for some more to use as mulch.
The fourth part is rock dust. The microbes love the minerals and the plants love the microbes. For some reason when the glaciers receded they forgot about this little patch of land.
The fifth part is manure and more leaves in the fall. It needs to to rot in, and that process slows to a stop here from December to February or March.
The last part is crop rotation. I've been pretty sloppy about this in the past, other than moving the onions. Part of that is because of space and shading from tall plants, but much of it is just my own laziness. I'm going to work on a five year rotation plan, I think. That should give room for adjustments as I go and allow for mistakes.
So that's where I'm at, from beginning to now. We'll see how it goes.