The soil at our new house, like many urban soils, was unpromising at best. Rocky, compacted, and highly alkaline, the only thing that really wanted to grow in it was tumbleweed. With compost, gypsum, and sheet-mulching it’s already a lot better and improving steadily. Beginning gardeners may be amazed at the sheer quantities needed. To emphasize the point of using enough, I’m illustrating the winter Grand Tetons of my backyard, Mt. Shredder and Mt. Manure. It might look like a lot, but it will be gone by spring. Over the winter I’ll gradually spread the compost and work it into the growing areas, and mulch paths with the bark chips. If you don’t have room for big heaps, you can get compost in bags, but get plenty. Apply gypsum per the results of your soil test, and you’re set for a successful growing season.
Didn’t get a soil test? I have to admit that I didn’t either. On soil that hasn’t been gardened before, I apply gypsum according to the directions on the bag, putting a little more where I’ll be growing calcium-lovers like broccoli and spinach. I also use extra on the potato patch, to get the pH down into a range that the potatoes can tolerate. Where soils are acidic I’d be using lime instead, but our very alkaline high-desert soils usually need a dose of gypsum to make them liveable for vegetables. Then I put on a scientifically determined amount of compost: all I can afford. Unless it’s really well aged, I keep it off the potato area. Instead, I dig all my neighbors’ discarded leaves into that area. No doubt it leads to comment when I remove the leaf bags on the night before green waste pick-up day, but as I see it, worse things could be said about me, so I’m lucky if people are only talking about my leaf-snatching habits. Needless to say, nothing should be touched unless it’s set out by the curb for pick-up. When in doubt, ask. But there’s no reason to pass up free organic matter that others are trying to get rid of. Think of yourself as the Guerilla Gardener, and you may feel dashing instead of disheveled and a bit silly.