As a child raised on a farm, I always knew how important the quality of soil was and how adding a bit of composted manure could do wonders for your garden. And with 20-some odd chickens, four horses and over 200 head of cattle, finding piles of old composted manure was never a problem.
As an adult, I no longer found myself living on a farm with herds of animals to supply my compost. I had bought a house on the edge of town and did not even own a pickup that would allow me to travel out and find my own compost and transport it home. I also did not enjoy calling around and attempting to pay other people not only for their compost but for their ability to deliver it. So I had to find other ways to improve my soil and add those nutrients that were constantly being zapped from my garden. And sometimes, I had to get creative.
I add tea and coffee grounds directly to my soil. A little pot that resides near my kitchen stove collects my used tea bags. When this pot is full, it is dumped directly into the soil of my garden or flower beds. Not only am I reducing my trash collection but I also am feeding a treat to the earthworms in my yard. Earthworms love tea and coffee grounds and thrive in environments where they have access to them.
Coffee grounds also are a good source of nitrogen, calcium and magnesium that will benefit your soil. And while no one in my household drinks coffee, I can almost always find free bag of used coffee grounds at my local Starbucks.
I also add eggshells to my soil. Broken eggshells from my kitchen is incorporated into our garden and flower beds. Not only does this help reduce our trash consumption but the shells add calcium, an important nutrient for plant growth, into our yard.
Broken eggshells also have the added benefit of being a pest control for snails, slugs, and other crawling pests that gardeners attempt to avoid. When these creatures crawl over the eggshells, their tender bellies often receive small cuts that cause moisture loss to the pest and can eventually result in their death.
I keep a small flock of chickens. Two old chickens started our little hen house and we have enjoyed them so much that we plan on soon adding four more. Chickens are possibly the most multi-purposed garden accessories that we have. Outside the obvious benefit of egg production, our chickens are garbage disposals, eating most of our table scraps. They help keep insects to a minimum since they enjoy the varied taste of grasshoppers, mosquitoes, and ants. Chickens also produce manure that, once it has aged, is an excellent additive to your soil.
I put newspaper down in my garden. In effort to cut back on weeds and the time consuming labor of removing those weeds, I have learned to lay black and white newspaper, covered in grass clippings, down on the pathways in my garden and around many of the individual plants. Not only does this prevent weeds from growing but it also helps prevent the dirt from completely drying out.
By applying two or three sheets of paper and about an inch of grass clippings, I make a covering that will last the entire growing season and then completely biodegrade by the next spring. While many people have been concerned about the ink in the paper possibly harming the quality of their soil, most newspaper these days is produced with a soy based ink which is completely harmless to your soil or the plants you grow.
I use companion planting to increase my plant production. Just like you and I have a preference of people we like to be with so do plants. Some plants grow better when they are placed next to complementary plants. Potatoes grow especially well next to marigolds because the flowers act as a deterrent against pests that thrive on the potato plants.
And of course the opposite of companion planting would also be taken into account when planning your garden space. There are some plants that just do not do well next to other types of plants. While carrots grow especially well next to peas and lettuce, they prefer not to be housed next to dill.
There is no denying that yard care is hard work but with a little research and a lot of trial and error you will find methods that will work perfectly for your yard in your quest to improve the quality of your soil.