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7 Ways to create a fertile garden

7 Ways to create a fertile garden

Want to create an enviable lawn that houses thriving plants? Learn how to save money on mulch, build a compost bin, and more tips to create a fertile garden

A beautiful garden is the pride of every homeowner, but creating and maintaining a healthy garden or lawn can be challenging. The good news is that you don't need to dent the bank to have the neighbours green with envy and achieve the garden of your dreams. From using compost instead of fertilisers to building your own compost bin, we've got you covered.

Don’t bother testing your soil

7 Ways to create a fertile environment for your lawn and plants - Farmer pouring a handful of soil into plantation Credit: piyaset

If you only listened to the “experts” in gardening magazines, you would fork over some green to a soil lab before you ever forked compost onto your garden. But some gardening professionals think this can be a waste of money.

Garden centre manager Connie Smith, for example, has never tested soil. In general, she says, if you are diligent about adding compost, manure and peat to your soil, it will achieve the required pH balance and essential minerals.

If you want to learn more about the general nature of soils in your area, the extension agent at a nearby university or an expert at a local garden centre will tell you what to expect and make recommendations for additions to your soil.

If you’re having problems growing a plant that should succeed in your area, you might have an issue with your soil and a test could help point to a solution.

Also, you may want to test your soil first if you plan to dump fertiliser on it every year; you may be wasting money and pouring unnecessary chemicals into your garden when all it needs is a dose of lime or a load of manure.

Get your mulch for free

7 Ways to create a fertile environment for your lawn and plants - gardener mulching flower bed with pine tree bark mulchCredit: ronstik

Mulch is essential for retaining moisture and inhibiting weeds, but the owners of your local garden or home centre will be laughing if you buy it by the bag.

Fortunately, arborists and tree trimmers are often looking to give away their wood chips—otherwise, they have to pay a landfill to take them. Call a local arborist and ask if you can get a load of chips dumped in your driveway at the end of the day’s work.

"Beware of making mulch from the chips of diseased or insect-infested trees"

Also, check with your town’s parks or public works department, because it often puts wood chips in a publicly available stash that you can load up for free. If you don’t have a pickup, place a large piece of sturdy plastic, a painter’s drop cloth, or even an old bedsheet in the backseat or trunk of your car, pile the chips inside, then pull it out at home.

However, beware of making mulch from the chips of diseased or insect-infested trees. Always ask about the source of the chips before taking them.

Whack those leaves into instant mulch

To turn your raked leaves into mulch, dump them into a large trash can and lower your strimmer into it. This process will reduce your leaves to a tenth of their former volume. They will be easy to pack up and dispose of if that’s your wish, but ground-up leaves make excellent mulch too.

"To turn your raked leaves into mulch, dump them into a large trash can and lower your strimmer into it"

Your garden shop manager will shake his head with dismay when you start passing up the bags of shredded root.

Use compost instead of fertiliser

Many spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on bags of dirt. Sacks of so-called designer soils sell by the truckload each spring. However, you can get all the benefits of these expensive fertilisers by making your own compost.

Work the compost into your garden soil before planting and spread 1.25–2.5cm of compost over the garden every winter after the harvest. Your soil will be more fertile, easier to work and have better drainage.

Build a simple backyard compost bin

7 Ways to create a fertile environment for your lawn and plants - A gardener wearing plastic boots and overalls is turning a compost pile using a shovel or forkCredit: Grandbrothers

To compost with lawn trimmings, leaves and other yard waste, you need a big bin, and big bins equal big bucks if you buy your composter at a garden centre or through a catalogue. But landscape designer Jennifer Appel has a simple plan for a backyard bin that anyone can build. All you need are a few simple supplies:

  • A used wooden pallet, available just for the asking from supermarkets and warehouse outfits
  • Two 2.4-meter 38 x 89-cm studs
  • 5 meters of galvanized chicken wire or hardware cloth, 91 cm wide. Choose the finer mesh hardware cloth if you will be composting kitchen scraps and other small items
  • A square of breathable landscaping fabric, cut to fit the top of the pallet

Place the pallet on a smooth, level surface near your garden. Saw the 2 x 4s in half, and nail one piece to each corner of the pallet to create four posts. Starting at one corner, staple the wire mesh to the posts, wrapping it around the edge of the pallet to form a box.

Instead of stapling the mesh to the final post on the front side of the box, secure it with picture hooks or a twist of picture-frame wire so you can swing open one panel of the mesh for easier access.

Staple the landscaping fabric over the top of the pallet, and load in your composting materials. Use a mix of carbon-rich waste (sawdust, wood chips, and leaves) and nitrogen-loaded waste (non-meat food scraps, grass clippings, and manure).

The open slats in the pallet under the pile will help bring air to the compost from below, reducing odour, but turn the pile with a pitchfork or shovel every week or so to make sure it gets enough oxygen. Within a month, you will have some nutritious compost ready for the garden, and the marketing mavens at the “designer soil” companies will be going back to the drawing board.

Make a low-cost kitchen composter

7 Ways to create a fertile environment for your lawn and plants - A woman throwing vegetable cuttings in a compost bucket in kitchenCredit: Halfpoint

You’ll be more likely to compost kitchen scraps if you have a composter that’s closer to the kitchen sink than that pile way out in the garden.

Head down to a home shop to pick up a 114-litre plastic rubbish bin. To make the can compost-ready, use a power drill with a 125-mm bit or a hammer and a large nail to punch holes in it.

Starting near the bottom of the rubbish bin, place the holes 10cm apart in a ring around the side of the can. Then move up the side of the can 15cm and drill a new ring of holes. Continue this pattern until you reach the top of the rubbish bin. Put a few drainage holes in the bottom too.

Place the can outside your house in a location convenient to the kitchen and on the way to the garden. Use a bungee cord with hooks at each end to secure the lid against scavenging animals, and turn the contents at least once a week.

Brew your own compost tea

Compost tea is a liquid formed by steeping compost in water until the resulting brew is rich in nutrients and beneficial microbes. More versatile to use than compost, the tea can be used to feed plants of all kinds, replacing expensive fertilisers.

The simplest method to making your own compost tea is to suspend a cheesecloth bag of rich organic compost in a bucket of water or a watering can for two to three days. Carefully remove the bag and its contents, then use the brew to feed your plants immediately.

You will get far more microbial growth—and thus more benefits for your garden—if you take a few additional steps. Microorganisms will only grow if they get an adequate supply of oxygen, and an aquarium pump and hose are just the ticket to deliver it.

"More versatile to use than compost, compost tea can be used to feed plants, replacing expensive fertilisers"

Get a 19-litre plastic bucket and place it near an outdoor electrical outlet. Attach one end of the plastic hose to the aquarium bubbler, and place the other end at the bottom of the bucket. Fill about one-fifth of the bucket with rich compost. Now fill a second bucket with water and let it stand overnight to let the chlorine in the tap water dissipate.

Otherwise, the chlorine will kill the microorganisms in the compost. Add the chlorine-free water to the compost, filling the bucket to within 15cm of its rim. Then add two tablespoons of unsulphured molasses to the mix as food for the microbes. Turn on the aquarium pump so it bubbles through the mix, and let it brew for two or three days, stirring occasionally.

When you are ready to use it, strain the tea through cheesecloth into the second bucket, and return the solids to the compost heap. Apply the tea to plants immediately.

Banner credit: IRINA NAZAROVA

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