Hi! I'm Heidi.

Hi! I'm Heidi, and here is my Homestead Journey.....

Hi! I'm Heidi, and here is my Homestead Journey.....

 

Wife. Grandma. Gardener. Student of Plant Medicine and Herbs. Whole30 Fan. Poultry Farmer. Trying to be Courageously DIY. Essential Oil Enthusiast. Beginning Horsewoman. New Homesteader in Mid-Life.

Do you want to feel empowered by being able to be as self-sufficient as possible in this uncertain world?  Me too!  Join me in this learning journey!

I'm Heidi, and this is Ranger.  He has been with me for over ten years, and I love him dearly.  

I'm Heidi, and this is Ranger.  He has been with me for over ten years, and I love him dearly.  

How to Amend the MOST HORRIBLE Soil in the World!

How to Amend the MOST HORRIBLE Soil in the World!

Life in the Mojave Desert is a challenge in just about all ways.  There's little water available, barely any rainfall, and it's an extreme, savage environment whether you are down on the valley floor or up higher, like we are.  Really, people are just not meant to be here.  I've heard more than one person describe the lower desert area around Las Vegas as "the moon" due to its rocky, dry, and gray appearance.  It's a place you grow to appreciate, and it's beautiful in its own harsh way, but anything that survives here naturally is a special life form, that's for sure! When we moved into our home in the mountains, we experienced the worst soil I've ever seen!  I figure if I can grow things here, I can grow things ANY where!  :-)  Here's what we did to amend this hard, rocky soil:

Note: There are affiliate links scattered throughout this article, and this simply means that if you happen to click through and make a purchase, I will receive a very small commission at no extra cost to you! Thank you for supporting Healing Harvest Homestead! Heidi
Our soil is like the Moon---seriously.  It's gray, rocky, super hard sand. Compacted like you can't imagine! Find out how we turned our poor soil into nutritious, useful, amended soil!

Our soil is like the Moon---seriously.  It's gray, rocky, super hard sand. Compacted like you can't imagine! Find out how we turned our poor soil into nutritious, useful, amended soil!

 

Breaking the Ground

In the first year, we had to till up the soil as best we could.  It was pretty backbreaking because of how rocky and hard it was!  Mr. Villegas did most of that hard work, I have to admit.  We tried to use our neighbor's tiller, but it broke.  That's how hard this soil is.  We removed TONS of rocks by hand, including a couple of small boulders.  This work is not for the faint of heart, that's for sure.  

I could probably use that tiller on our garden now, since our soil is better and softer.  However, we are moving to more of a no-till method of gardening, which means we are disturbing the top layer as little as possible. 

Here's just a little patch of untouched ground.  The only thing that would grow naturally in this soil is Horehound (and it's a pain with it's stickers in the Fall) and tumbleweeds---otherwise known as sticker bushes.  Rough stuff!  

Here's just a little patch of untouched ground.  The only thing that would grow naturally in this soil is Horehound (and it's a pain with it's stickers in the Fall) and tumbleweeds---otherwise known as sticker bushes.  Rough stuff!  

That first year we just moved in in September, so we broke the ground for the North garden in the Fall, before the ground froze.  We basically just broke it up as much as possible, about one and a half feet down, using a pick axe, shovels, and a large heavy rake for the rocks. After the first snow, we just let it be until Spring.  Whew! I look back on that time and am amazed at how darn hard that was! 

Mulch! Mulch! and More Mulch! (Organic of Course)

Our last frost is the first week of June, so we added a thick layer of organic wood mulch in March of that first year and turned it into the soil.  That first summer was kind of a rough year for our veggies in that poor soil, and I hate to admit this, but I used Miracle Grow fertilizer (chemicals) because we didn't have lots of manure close by or a compost heap yet.   

Last summer was our third garden season.  We laid that same organic mulch on the soil in thick layers each spring after that first March.  As it has broken down over the past couple years, the soil has become richer and darker.  You can really see and feel the difference in the quality.  Adding mulch like this doesn't create big changes right away.  It takes time and patience.  

There are a variety of different types of mulch you can use.  We chose to use mulch from small wood particles, organic of course, that would condition the soil as it broke down.  We used a brand from our local nursery, but the link above is a similar type.  

We also added another garden area we call the South garden, so now we have two large garden areas.  The North garden is the first one, and now the soil is dark, crumbly and filled with organic matter.  The South garden is a year younger, and even though we've mulched that one at the same rate, you can see the difference one year makes!  

This is what the soil looks like in the North garden now.  I just turned some of it up so you can see.  I know other places have really rich, dark soil, but I am REALLY proud of this soil and how much it has improved in three years! I actually got the ultimate compliment from my Dad on our soil last year!

This is what the soil looks like in the North garden now.  I just turned some of it up so you can see.  I know other places have really rich, dark soil, but I am REALLY proud of this soil and how much it has improved in three years! I actually got the ultimate compliment from my Dad on our soil last year!

This soil is from the South garden, which is one year younger than the North garden.  It's not as dark or rich---but it's coming along very well, considering how it was when we started! 

This soil is from the South garden, which is one year younger than the North garden.  It's not as dark or rich---but it's coming along very well, considering how it was when we started! 

WORMS! Lots and Lots of Worms!

One of our neighbors blessed us with a huge can of red wigglers the second summer we gardened up here!  And what a blessing that was!  Those little red worms have done absolutely amazing things with the soil!  They oxygenate the soil, fertilize it with their waste, and help break down organic matter quickly.  I. LOVE. Worms!!!  

I love worms so much, that now I'm thinking about adding a worm bin to our other creatures living out here with us!  That would mean keeping them inside during the freezing winters!  Yep!  That's where we're headed. Vermiculture bins!  Those little creatures are possibly the best thing to have happened to our garden.....except for, possibly.....

Chickens!  Lots and Lots of Chickens! 

:-)  Chickens are wonderful helpers in the garden! You can't believe what they'll do to help improve your soil! 

By harvest time of the first year, we also had about twelve chickens we had added to our place.  After the harvest was over, we opened up a hole in the fencing between the north garden and the chicken run, giving them access to both gardens.  They went crazy! We let them in that first fall in order for the chickens to take advantage of the leftover greens.  What we didn't realize at that time, is that the chickens turned the top layer of the soil for us in their digging efforts!  How wonderful! :-) 

By giving the chickens access to the gardens throughout the late Fall, Winter, and early Spring, they completely managed to get the soil ready for us to plant! Well, pretty much! All we have had to do in the Spring is create our rows or squares or whichever plan we are experimenting with at the time.  

Chickens aerate the soil, keep it from becoming compacted, eat little critters (which is great for the taste of the eggs and the health of the chickens), and help fertilize it naturally.  Chickens are a winner for everyone all around!

The chickens' first day in the Fall garden. 

The chickens' first day in the Fall garden. 

Here's the soil as of now, after a Winter of chickens, snow, mulch, compost, and horse manure! This is about one-fourth of the North garden you see here. 

Here's the soil as of now, after a Winter of chickens, snow, mulch, compost, and horse manure! This is about one-fourth of the North garden you see here. 

Interested in creating your own tea blends for taste and medicine? Learn how here!

Interested in creating your own tea blends for taste and medicine? Learn how here!

Compost and Manure

About two years ago, we started composting everything we could, except for old veggies we fed to the chickens.  I keep three kitchen composters available in the kitchen, and I just LOVE these things!  You just toss in your egg shells, coffee grounds, and any old/unused veggies/fruits.  There's a filter at the top with a charcoal lining that keeps the mix from smelling---so whenever you're ready you just take it out and dump it onto the compost heap, give it a little turn and maybe some water---that's it!  There are different styles of kitchen compost bins, and some of them are really cute! I could not manage composting without my little kitchen helpers! 

As for manure:  There are lots of wild horses around here, and I know a neighbor who goes out every Spring and fills a couple of 5 gallon buckets with their manure, fills it up with water, and creates Poop Soup.  His garden is fabulous!  We've never done that with the wild horse poop, but now that we have two horses and therefore LOTS of available manure right in our yard---well, we have begun adding manure to the garden for the last few months, as long as there was no snow on the ground (which isn't often up here in the Winter).  We just added a final layer about two weeks ago and gave the chickens a week to get everything turned in.  Perfect! 

Here's our compost bin that Mr. Villegas made.  This is right after he finished it, and it's already about an eighth of the way filled.  Now, it's about halfway up.  The front opening slides off on the top and the bottom too, for complete access.  You can see my little kitchen composters up on top, there! 

Here's our compost bin that Mr. Villegas made.  This is right after he finished it, and it's already about an eighth of the way filled.  Now, it's about halfway up.  The front opening slides off on the top and the bottom too, for complete access.  You can see my little kitchen composters up on top, there! 

Here's a bit of the North garden last July.  Things are looking good, except for a little bolting going on there! :-)  

Here's a bit of the North garden last July.  Things are looking good, except for a little bolting going on there! :-)  

So....it takes a lot of time and some different ways of managing your soil to amend it!  You can add other things, if you want or need--for instance, sand for clay type soils, etc.  The best thing to do is get to know your own special soil in your area and amend it accordingly.  The above things we did, however, could be done to any soil with success!  I'm super pleased to say that we haven't used any chemicals at all on our garden after that first summer we stooped to using Miracle Grow out of desperation.  All organic, including pest control.  

How do you amend your soil?  I'd love to hear your experiences! Gardening is definitely a learning journey, and if you have some ideas I didn't mention, please let me know! :-)

Hugs and Self-Reliance!

Heidi

P.S.  Please sign up for the HHH Newsletter and never miss a thing! When you do, you'll receive a link to download my FREE eBook on How to Relax Using Herbs.  

This article has been shared at these link ups:  The Homestead Blog HopThe Homesteader HopGrandma's DIY, Our Simple Homestead Hop, and The Homestead Bloggers Network! Stop on by for lots of information and homesteading tips!

Have bad soil?  Find out how we took our hard, compacted, rocky soil and turned it into beautiful, dark, useful soil!

Have bad soil?  Find out how we took our hard, compacted, rocky soil and turned it into beautiful, dark, useful soil!

 

 

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