Plants like these cabbages and broccoli really thrive when they have super soil! Val Webb, gardening on the red bluffs above Mobile Bay, Alabama, says ‘…hoeing in a two-inch layer of clean, crumbly black mushroom compost. (I use mushroom compost because human sewage sludge — delicately referred to as “biosolids” in the federal regulations that allow it to be lumped in as compost and sold to unsuspecting gardeners — is frequently lurking in commercial bagged manure products [no date given]. Ewwww.)’ I agree wholeheartedly! Use the best you have available, get prime results!
Plants vary in their soil needs.
Brassica Patches! Since Brassicas are the backbone of your winter garden, and most of them are big plants, heavy feeders, they need good tasty soils! It is true cooler weather slows uptake of cold soil Nitrogen, so be sure what you are offering is easy for your winter plant to take up! That said, they LOVE recently manured ground. Always use well composted manures. Bagged manures are safe. Bunny poop from your local shelter is safe. Broccoli plants will grow in almost any soil but prefer a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimum growth. A pH within this range will discourage clubroot disease and maximize nutrient availability. We like that. Well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter (compost) are ideal for broccoli plants and especially early plantings of broccoli. Sidedress (feed) about three to four weeks after transplanting when the plants have become established. Nitrogen is important for high-quality.
Winter Lettuces Lettuces aren’t necessarily persnickety, they are just hungry! They too LOVE recently manured ground! Nitrogen! They are producing nothing but leaves, and if we are harvesting the lower leaves regularly, they keep right on producing up to 10 weeks! That’s a lot of work, so they need a lot of chow!
Onions You are hearing these words again! LOVE recently manured ground. Deep garden loam in full sun makes them quite happy. Whether using transplants or seeds, prepare the ground ahead of time. Since onions like a well-drained, crumbly, fertile soil, raised beds work well. Work a two-inch layer of compost into the bed before planting in fall. At planting, apply a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 at 1/2 cup per 20-foot row. Although onions are heavy feeders, save most of your fertilizing until spring when the bulbs begin to form. Don’t go too rich too soon or the tops will do all the growing. Generally tops grow in cool weather, the bulb in hot.
Peas – Legumes Peas are another creature entirely! They are a legume – gather Nitrogen from the air and deposit it in little nodules on their roots! They feed themselves! So generally they don’t need fertilizing or rich soils, but do watch them. If they start losing their perk and leaves start paling, a tad of blood meal will help if that’s the issue. At the same time, give them a feed of light fish/kelp liquid mix for them to take up a bit later. Favas are legumes too, but they usually do quite well without feeding even though they become huge plants.
Chard Chard is practically a miracle plant! A prolific grower, tolerates poor soil, inattention, and withstands frost and mild freezes. They are sensitive to soil acidity though. A low soil pH results in stunted growth. Chard prefers a pH of 6.2 to 6.8 but will tolerate 6.0 to 7.5. Loose, well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter are ideal for chard. If you have heavy soil, amend it well with compost prior to planting. Break up large clods of soil and rake the area smooth prior to planting your chard seeds. Though it grows over summer, it grows best in our cooler times of year.
Strawberry Beds Strawberries like loose, loamy, slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0-6.5) and full sun to achieve peak berry quality, but they will tolerate a variety of soil conditions as long as they have adequate drainage. Soggy soil makes for fruit and roots that rot. If your garden tends to hold water, mix 6 inches of compost into the soil to create a raised bed. Raised beds are desirable near moist coastal areas. Dig in lots of manure and compost before transplanting strawberries right at the soil level since strawberries are short rooted. But not chicken manure. They do not like the salts in chicken manure. No matter how much you water in summer, it’s hard to get rid of those salts. Once your bed is made, mulch it with pine needles. That helps your soil have the pH strawberries like.
Soil is the foundation of the life of your garden. Read, reread, that chapter on soil in Gaia’s Garden!