Gardening Basics 1

Soil and soil preparation

Soil preparation might be the most important step in growing a record giant fruit or vegetable. Without good soil your dreams of a giant plant or record breaker will be hampered. As a general rule soil should be light and crumbly, well drained with a good mix of organic material in various stages of decomposition.

The following tips apply to all soils and will help you with all varieties of giant plants no matter which one you grow.

Compost. This is at least 1 year old decayed organic material old making the nutrients readily available to plants. Compost adds tilth or fluffiness to the soils making it easier for the roots to spread out and utilize more nutrients in from the surrounding soil. Compost is a story unto itself for more info please read the article written specifically about it.

How Much to add: For most average soils you should aim for a total of 25% compost in the soil. Most tillers till to depth of 8' or so. That means if you spread out 3" of aged compost and till it in you should end up with 25% compost mixed in, this is a very good start. Knowing how beneficial compost is I usually spread at least 4" or so. If you don't add any other soil amendments be sure to add compost.

The following items are packaged additives so unless you are an experienced gardener the directions on the packages are very good guide lines and should be followed to the letter. Don't be a victim of 'a little is good, so a lot must be better'. Please don't do that because they can be easily over done. Some are absolutely harmless if over applied but others contain excess salts that will work against your best efforts.

Worm Castings, Outside of compost my personal favorite are worm castings. They are also called black gold and with good reason. Pure worm castings contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, trace elements, micro-nutrients, natural enzymes, natural growth enhancers and beneficial bacteria. They improve soil structure helping both water retention and drainage, improved aeration and help to balance soil ph. Numerous studies have shown the many benefits and attributes to worm castings including, improved flower size and quality as well as improved fruit and vegetable yields. Plants look healthier, more robust and grow stronger and ultimately larger which is what we all want. A strong healthy plant is also much more capable to fight off diseases and insects.

How much to add: Worm casting should incorporated to 1/4 the total volume of the growing medium. They can also be used as top dressing to give your plant an extra kick in the middle of the growing season.

Humic Acid is another fantastic soil amendment. Humic acid isn't really acid so don't let that word scare you off from using it. Humic acids result from decomposed prehistoric plant and animal matter. These substances enhance soil fertility and beneficial bacteria counts within the solid, contributing to a more symbiotic relationship between plant roots and soil. They also promote soil nutrient uptake, increase crop yields, and aid in preventing frost damage. The best part is it's not very expensive.

How much to add: Humic acid can be purchased in 50lb bags so it goes a long way and does not spoil. Make sure you incorporate this amendment but please follow directions as a little goes a long way. A good start rate is 1cup per 100 sf.

A lesser known, but very beneficial amendment, is Crab meal. Crab meal is just what it sounds like, ground up crab shells. Not only do these shells decompose and contribute Nitrogen and Phosphorus and also create a hostile environment for harmful nematodes and fungi.

Crab shells also contain a very beneficial bacteria called Chitins. Chitins love to eat the exoskeletons of Japanese beetles and flea eggs. Although not classified as a bioinsecticide or fungicide it does exhibit these properties. These crab shell properties are non-toxic to birds, animals, fish or plants.

How much to add: Spread about 10 lbs per 100sqft.

In order to not destroy the beneficial biological community of worms within the soil, tilling in the above amendments should always be done in the fall after all the previous seasons plants and debris have been completely and discarded, or even burned. There is no better way to infect your garden with disease than to use old garden plants that may be harboring diseases. Get rid of them!! If at all possible do not till in the spring.

Kelp Meal is also a very good soil amendment. Kelp meal helps to balance out the soils as it contains carbohydrates, minerals and amino acids that really enhance root and plant growth.

How much to add: We use 1 lb per 100sf.

Whether you want to incorporate any or all of these amendments they will give you and your plants a serious advantage and boost helping them grow very large and hopefully record breaking. Remember soil fertility is one of the great keys to success.