Playing in the dirt.

Soil from Scratch

I’ve talked some about the poor soil in my area, and the need to mix up some decent soil if I want anything to grow.  For reasons of living somewhat off the more beaten paths, I ended up deciding on a mix of 1/3 sphagnum peat moss, 1/3 mushroom compost, and 1/3 steer manure/compost blend.  For a bed 8′ long by 4′ wide by 8″ deep, I needed 24 cubic feet of soil ingredients.  A slight miscalculation, though, since the interior measurement is actually 7’8″ long by 3’8″wide, which means I really only needed about 21 cubic feet of soil materials.

Or so you would think, right?

I’d read that peat moss expanded, so there might be some leftover soil that could be added as the mix settled.  I hadn’t read that “some leftover soil” would be nearly half the materials I purchased.

I had also read about a method to mix soil by pouring the ingredients on one end of a tarp, and walking the end back and forth a few times, then walking it it side to side a few times, but most places cautioned that trying to mix the whole lot at once was too heavy, so I decided to start with a fourth of my materials.  That was also too heavy, but might not have been with a second person to help manage both the tarp and the weight.

Two bags of steer manure/compost blend, two bags of mushroom compost, and one bag of peat moss stacked on a tarp.

There’s actually very little dirt in soil…

I cut the second quarter in half again, and only mixed half a bale of peat moss, one bag of mushroom compost, and one bag of the steer manure mix, but after wrangling the first batch, even that was a little on the heavy side.  The other half of the second quarter I just broke up the peat moss on the tarp and dumped it along one side of the bed, poured a bag of mushroom compost down the middle, and added a bag of steer manure blend down the other side, and mixed it all with a hoe, going back and forth across the rows of ingredients.  I think for a single (mostly able-bodied) person doing the work, that this was the easiest method available to me.  I am considering renting a small cement mixer for next year’s additions.

That first half of the materials filled the bed to within a half inch of the top, so I watered it well and let it sit for a week.  It rained a few times, and the wind has been howling for days, drying everything out, so it should have been alternately beaten down by water and then dried by the wind, shrinking it further.

By today, it had only settled another half an inch.  I threw up my hands and added two more bags of mushroom compost and mixed it into the top layer of mix with a hoe, since part of the peat moss’ job is to make my soil stick together, so it doesn’t blow away.  It would have been kind of silly to just put the light and crumbly mushroom compost on top only to let it end up miles away.  It was late, since I’d had to wait for the wind to die down, so I watered it down and called it a night.


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