Good gardening is all in the dirt
By Farmer Bubba Scott
We're looking March square in the eye and it's time to talk dirt.
By now, you should have your garden dirt in good planting condition. If you haven't started a garden, it's not too late to get things together.
So, what makes good dirt? The addition of composting material. When you add compost (above right) to your garden, not only do you loosen up the dirt, you add new life. Compost makes food available to the plant through its roots because compost contains plant roots, animals, insects, bacteria, fungus and millions of microorganisms. All these combined help you to have a productive garden that is not only healthy, but also supplies healthy food.
For all 3 types of gardening, trying to grow in Florida dirt alone can only lead to disappointment. Because it is very low in nutrients, it needs compost in the form of leaves, grass clippings and composted manure. Here's an overview of each gardening type:
Containers (right). Remember this, containers contain; there is no place for the dirt to go when a plant starts its root system. The dirt needs to be loose, but not too loose. I use 3- or 4-year-old compost mixed with new compost for my dirt. My recipe is 5 gallons of new compost to 1 gallon of old dirt. The old compost has become dirt, and it gives the roots something to hold on to as the plant grows toward the sun above ground. The container dirt is also loose enough to keep air in and not let the soil get too compacted. So, don't empty your old dirt out of the container from last year. Dig about half of the dirt out and mix in the good stuff. If your dirt still looks a little tight, add some perlite. This will help keep the dirt loose if needed. It also helps prevent water loss.
Raised Beds (right). This style is a little more relaxed than containers. A raised bed garden plot is a larger area to work in, and the dirt has more room to move around. The idea behind raised beds is that they will always contain loose soil that will never be compacted down by walking in the garden.
This looseness of the soil allows for quicker root growth and healthier plants. The mixture ratio of soil and compost is the same as for containers with a little more "structure." If you don't have access to compost, dig down about a foot in the raised bed and turn the soil over to break up the dirt.
Also, you can purchase organic peat humus and top soil in most of your gardening centers, which will make good gardening dirt. Mix 2 bags of peat humus and 1 bag of top soil in with your own dirt. If you can rake up some leaves, throw them in the mix, and then work them all together to create excellent soil. Aged compost is also great for bringing life to the garden party. New raised beds will take a little time to build up healthy microorganism families. That's why composting is so important when starting your garden.
In-Ground (right). To create living dirt in an in-ground garden takes 8 to 10 years of composting to turn the dirt into a thriving, living community of bioorganisms necessary for excellent gardening. That sounds like a long time, but each growing season, the dirt gets better and provides better food for the plant. I have a friend who's been composting his garden for 3 or 4 years, and it's one of the best in-ground gardens I've seen.
It's important to make high hills for the plants to grow in and enough space between the rows of plants for you to move around and work your garden. Once again, it's all about the dirt. Be sure your soil is loose enough that plants can grow a very strong, healthy root system.
In all three types of growing, think of this: Plants need air, sunlight and water to survive. Just like us. The roots are the food factory of the plant, and they need air, water, and good, healthy living soil to create good food for the plant. When the plants and the dirt are working together, your harvest will be some of the best produce you can grow!
Now that we've covered the dirt in your garden, it's on to actually growing in the containers, raised beds, and in-ground gardens. Step by step. We're going to start with an empty container, raised bed, and good ole garden dirt, to show you how to grow with what you have. If you've never grown your own vegetables, you're getting ready to. You also have Farmer Bubba as your tour guide. Welcome to the farm.
Do you have a gardening question for Farmer Bubba or a photo of your garden you would like to share? Email Bubba or add your question in the comment window below, and Bubba will try to reply as quickly as possible.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Farmer Bubba Scott is a licensed nursery grower specializing in container farming of vegetables with many years of experience and some unique perspectives on vegetable farming. Farmer Bubba sells his container-grown vegetable plants at Oliver Dahlman Feed & Agriculture in High Springs.