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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Amending Your Garden Plot with Peat Moss and Humus (Moisten!)

Every year I add to my garden's soil. I use raised beds and can concentrate resources right to the beds. Last year I re-dug the beds to 2 feet deep. You don't have to do that yearly. Because I am using a raised bed and don't walk in it, the soil stays loose. However, I do have clay soil. Great for micro nutrients but it is heavy. Every year I amend it with peat moss and humus and grass clippings. This freshens up my planting beds and it reworks the top 12 to 24 inches of earth, depending on what I am planting. This is how I do it.
The beds and supplies. These are 4 x 6 raised beds. They have to be cleaned out. I have a bag of 3 cubic feet of dried compressed peat moss. It will cost you about $10. The other 2 bags are humus and composted manure. They will cost you about $2.75. The blue container is used to mix the peat moss with water. I can't stress this enough... moisten your peat moss before you use it.

Step One: Clean out the beds.  What can I say... clean them out. I would bag all debris and put it curb side. This reduces the risk of over wintering disease and bugs, coming to life.  Skip composting for the first spring clean out. Unless you know your material will be thoroughly decomposed by the time you use it.

Step Two: Prepare the peat  moss. Peat moss is baked dry I believe. It is dry dry dry. Dusty and dry. You want to add water to it so it goes into the garden moist. If you put dry peat moss in your garden, you get a dust storm and it actually struggles to absorb water. When you plant in dry peat moss and then water it, the peat moss actually floats up on the water and it can mess up your seeds. So moisten it.

This is a large container that is probably 25 gallons. Peat moss is hard to moisten because it floats. Fill your container halfway so you can reach your arms into it and turn it easily. Put in a good amount of water and then mix by hand. The trick is to sort of pet the peat moss in big circles. This rolls the water and peat moss together. Just mixing it under doesn't work. You have to rub the particles into the water. It is THAT DRY! The peat moss should be moist not soggy. When you squeeze it water should not run out of it.

Step Three: Dump in the moistened peat moss. The darker pile is the moistened peat moss. It expands when wet. That is what you want to amend into your soil. Notice the lighter brown pile, that is the dry peat moss. In a 4 x 6 plot you want to put in about 1/2 a bag of peat moss. I have clay soil. If your soil is in better shape... use less. Worse shape... use more.

Step Four: Spread the moisten peat moss out. If you don't have enough to cover the plot by 1/2 inch, you can add more. There is no science to this. Keep in mind peat moss is acidic. If is a good idea to sprinkle a few handfuls of pulverized lime on top of the spread before you mix it under.  I put lime down and the end of the season. Lime is alkaline. Peat moss is acidic. You typically want you garden soil neutral but that is another blog entry.

Step Five: Turn it under to at least 12 inches deep.

Step Six: Add some more moisten peat moss to the turned bed. I used nearly the rest of my peat moss bag. I saved some (like 4 shovels full) for the composted humus and manure. You will have to remember to moisten the peat moss. Cover the space and work it in to the top 4-6 inches. You can see where the shovel is, that it has been worked in to the garden. I do it with my hands. I like the process of breaking the clay and mixing the soil by hand. It also lets me find rocks to remove.

Step Seven: Smooth and admire the finished bed. This bed is ready for planting.  The composted humus and manure will be used for planting. Notice the difference between the amended front bed and the untouched bed in the back. Remember... moisten your peat moss.