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Long term soil improvement plan

8 years ago


I am a relatively new (and not very successful gardener), and could use some help setting up a plan to improve my soil across the next year. I've read quite a bit about various soil amendments and cover crops, but could use some help with the timing of everything, as I live in Northern Iowa and have a relatively short growing season. I'm mostly growing veggies, particularly tomatoes.

I have 2 3x8 raised beds and am trying to be organic-ish (I don't use chemicals, but not everything that goes into my compost is organic). I started them three years ago with some soil a farmer friend of ours brought over. They are planted in a suburban side yard. I killed the grass underneath, but did not do anything to break up the soil in the yard before adding the truckload of topsoil. The first year we didn't get much, but we got a really late start. Last year, we planted on time, but pretty much everything languished. Out of 8 tomato plants, maybe 3 set fruit, and none produced much. None reached more than about 2 feet. Frustrated, I looked to the soil, and realized that what we had was really silty bordering on clay. When I pulled the tomatoes in the fall, it was clear that they all had really stunted roots.

On the advice of a friend (who runs an organic CSA in another state), I amended my soil in the fall with about 3 inches of peat moss and a small bag of vermiculite for each bed. The consistency seems much better. I then planted a fall green manure mix (winter rye, annual rye, hairy vetch, field peas) which did well until the rabbit used the beds for a buffet (he likes vetch the least, but still mowed it eventually).The main goal for the green manure was to get some roots down to break up the soil further. The vetch and rye should come back in the spring.

Currently, the beds have 6 inches of shredded leaves on top, largely to protect garlic planted in the fall at one end.

OK, that was long, here's where I need some advice
I'm trying to plan for an effective way to keep enriching the soil.

what I have for materials:

Grass clippings (around late march any way)
Green Manure
Compost (probably not ready until fall 2015, but there will be alot)
Vermicompost (just started, but expect to have a little ready by late april).

I know that all of these are good things to put into the garden, but I need some advice on when, or if some should be skipped, etc.

1. I currently have a bunch of leaves over the vetch/rye. Will they be able to poke through, or should I remove the leaves when it starts to warm up? I figured I would just till it all under if they play nice with each other

2. I figure I can use some of the vermicompost when I plant and top dress with it over the growing season. Any problems with this plan?

3. Here is the big question, that I can't quite get my head around- I'd like to do another green manure crop in the fall. One of the issues that I had this year though, is that because our growing season is pretty short, by the time I pulled everything else and planted the green manure, it didn't leave it much time to establish. so:
3A- Would it be possible to plant the green manure sometime (say mid august) between the rows of tomatoes and other plants?
3B- If I do that, what would be the best way to incorporate compost in the fall? Seems like green manure or compost would be easy, but I'm not sure how to work in both. Of course, once it warms up, there could be a compost miracle and it is ready by late spring, but I kind of doubt it.

Thanks, and apologies for being extremely long winded.

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