Reclaim a weedy patch, small field, farmland, or large garden with soil that is either spent or neglected. Then restore the soil to make it productive again! See our advice.
Clearing Your Land
- The first job is to cut brush and small trees back to the fence line. Even if you can’t do anything else right away, do this before these trees get the soil acclimated for the pine cycle that will follow. Each bush and tree is part of the cycle and prepares the soil for the next stage. Catching it before the soil has changed significantly is half the battle.
- Using a heavy-duty pair of lopping shears, cut small growth straight across and as close to the ground as possible. A sharply cut sapling stub will go straight through a tractor tire or the sole of a shoe. Larger sapling and tree stumps will have to be pulled out.
- Walk the area and mark the location of any rocks. The larger rocks were probably plowed around once upon a time, and you may choose to take the route, but it’s best to remove as many rocks as possible.
- To see how big a rock is, hit it with a crowbar. If it makes a high-pitched *DING* that normally indicates a larger rock that needs to be dug or pulled out; if it makes a duller sound it should be a rock that you would be able to handle with a normal shovel or even your bare hands.
Planting Manure Crops
- Manure crops or “cover crops” are crops you can plant where you want your garden to be and, even if you don’t use them for food or forage, they stimulate the soil to make it better suited for crop growing.
- Rye is the best known green manure crop. Others that enrich the soil include cowpeas, mustard, oats, alfalfa, clover, winter peas, and timothy.
- The legumes return nitrogen to the soil along with organic material, and are a good choice for long-term soil development. Winter rye is good to plant in the fall and plow two to three weeks before spring planting. White clover is good for bees if you let it flower before plowing under. Alfalfa is expensive to plant, but its deep roots do wonders for your soil. Treefoil is a good choice for wet areas.
- Cowpeas, mung beans and mustard are good for spring planting. They germinate in cold soil and are planted as soon as the ground thaws. In four to six weeks they can be plowed under, and these are good for preparing vegetable garden if you couldn’t get to your land in the fall.
- Allow two or three weeks between plowing under and planting. A rear-tined roto-tiller will chop up the vegetation well as it incorporates it into the soil. The principle of a green manure crop is that as it decays after being plowed under, it returns to the soil all the nutrients it used while growing. It also adds vital organic matter, so all types of soil, from sand to clay, respond positively to this treatment.
- The return of organic material to the soil, sadly, isn’t a one-time project. It must be continuous in the form of planting or fertilizing with compost, leaves or animal manure, if the decay process is to continue.
- Once you’ve fertilized your field or garden (each year’s mulch plowed under helps, so do shredded leaves) you can further improve it by rotation planting. This means dividing your land or garden into several areas and planting different things, changing them each year. Alfalfa, corn, and wheat are good choices to rotate. Even if you don’t use the crops for food, your soil will be improving instead of deteriorating.
That’s about all you can do your first year. Repeated each year, however, this process will turn even solid clay or sand into a fine garden in about five to six years. If that seems like forever, don’t worry about it! That doesn’t mean you have to wait that long to harvest vegetables. Most gardens grow under less than optimum conditions, and the harvest still turns out great! Your garden will be easier to care for and more productive each year.