Gardening gloves are a staple in the garden world. Preventing the packing of dirt under your nails, getting stuck by a rose that waits in hiding, or the pointy thorns on a Meyer Lemon Tree that protects the fruit.
But allow yourself to garden without the gloves to feel the soil from time to time. Grab the unworked soul in its natural form with its clay base, loamy divinity, or the sandy soil that runs through your fingers. Feeling the soil without any amendments bonds you to the garden and invests you to improving the soil. Adding to your feelings of accomplishment as you transform the garden into a rich, fertile oasis for anything that comes to call it home.
Bringing us to the controversy regarding working the soil. The new philosophy of soil and amendments is not to rototill the soil, instead only placing new soil, amendments, and compost on top, leaving nature to break everything down further enriching the soil. Well, I am old school and have taken the position which is based on the soil that you start with. Is it clay, sandy, or loamy?
Clay soil is heavy and drainage is painfully slow, making it hard for nutrients and water to get to the new roots trying to stretch out and grow. Clay soil, (I have clay soil), I approach with an attack mode of a ninja gardener. I go old school and double dig. If your not familiar with this method, it is labor driven due to the digging down into the dirt a foot or two,( I always dig at least 2 feet). Then, mixing the dirt as it is placed back with amendments, compost, fertilizer, and good soil. Changing it from the nightmare called clay into a happy home of soil. Make sure the soil you purchase to add is not high in peat moss, making the soil more acidic.
Sandy soil is so loose and has a hard time holding onto nurishment that double digging is nearly impossible, so a tiller is perfect. Pour your soil, amendments, fertilizer on the top and rototill everything together.
Lastly if you have loamy soil you have garden gold. It offers the best drainage, nutrient retention and oxygen. Add amendments, and fertilizer and compost to the soil and rototill everything together.
My dad would always tell me to check a foundation. If foundation is bad then the whole thing is bad. Well that rings for a garden as well. Your soil is only as good as it’s foundation. Work the foundation the first time and when everything finds its spot in the garden, your budding baby will grow stronger, deeper, bigger and able to fight off pest invasion and disease.
It’s at this time you can proceed with the top dressing in the future. Putting new compost, soil, and amendments on the surface with a scratch flip. I like a scratch flip it’s just enough to open up the soil, letting everything take a deep cleansing breath and draining the water with ease.
This is when you would take off your gloves again and feel the fruits of your labor. Feel how the soil feels and gets warmer as you move deeper into soil.
Now you know what your garden feels like happy and healthy and when it gets hungry or tired you can feel the soil and understand why the garden is struggling.
So get out there and fall in love with your garden and Mother Earth, she will thank you for it.