We didn’t have a lot of time to get the garden prepped for spring before we moved in, but we have grandiose plans for it in the new year.
Our number 1 goal though is bringing some life back into the soil.
We are used to wet, juicy, worm filled city soil. Dirt that is doused with heavy rainfall and heavy in organic matter. But here on Saltspring, we are living with dry, parched soil. Soil that has leaves from 4 years ago still trying to break down. And very little moisture.
Get a taste of the soil we are dealing with here!
So, as we leap ahead into shorter days, we are spending some time getting the garden ready for next year, and giving it the time it needs to get there.
First, we talk poop.
With 40 chickens we have a lot of chicken poop. Much like a fine red wine, chicken manure needs time to age. It needs to sit and smoulder for awhile until it’s potency reduces, and it becomes safe to grow in.
But with a long west coast winter ahead of us, we are going to use this time to our advantage. Our beds are being prepped with the fresh manure NOW. Covered, and then tilled, and then topped again. This will keep the heat in, and allow for the composting to naturally occur. Come spring time, we will give the soil another till over before we plant, and (fingers crossed) have a juicy and nutritious soil for our seedlings when the weather warms.
Since we work in smaller beds, in the efforts of limiting our water use (and keeping the chickens out of the garden) my new best friend in garden tools is the Ryobi Cultivator that attaches to our String Trimmer Expand-it System. It is heavy duty enough to work through our tough soil, but also easy enough for me to handle. I have battled enough full size cultivators in my day and prefer these lighter weight options for ease and maneuverability.
We had used the cultivator in the spring to turn the soil… our other option being a pick axe (that will tell you hard compacted the soil was) and we weren’t gentle with it. It tossed up rocks and sliced through roots, but still held it’s game.
It has deep enough blades to get the chicken manure into the soil, and fully turned. This allows up to top the beds with more manure and straw, and allows the composting to take effect with the heat.
Hubs has his eye on the other accessories for the expand-it system (can you say pole saw pruner?) and with the 40v lithium battery system, we can store the one shaft and motor system, and multiple accessories, without it taking up ALL the space.
We have plans for water harvesting as well this year, and pulling our kitchen grey water into the garden beds, while keeping the rain water for the food gardens. Hopefully with the water and the fertilizer plans we will bring some life back into the soil in the coming years.
And of course we can’t forget about the rabbits! Thankfully their manure doesn’t need to be aged so it is being put aside for all our starts this spring and to add fresh when we do our second till after winter.
It’s a strange thing to get excited over healthy soil, but after spending the summer on our property in the dry and barren dirt, I just want to see rich, dark soil again. Soil that plants flourish in. Soil filled with bugs and worms and life.
Hopefully these 40 chickens will start adding their “flavour” to my gardens soon!
Our other goal is to clean up the deadfall and tree “litter” This gets used for kindling, composted or just straight up burned outside. When the conditions are cold and wet we burn directly on the new garden areas, preferably ON stumps and other large masses. The extra charcoal in the ground also helps when mixed in with the soil.
We allow the hens to range in the finished garden beds as they winter over, not just for the “on site” manure, but also because their scratching breaks up and aerates the soil. We pull them out of any permanent planted beds (like the raspberries) because even in winter our hens will find fresh roots to eat!
We have big plans for our property over the coming years, but none of them will be worthwhile unless we can get the soil nurtured and revitalized. Here’s to healthy chicken manure and happy composting!