The place where we put a garden, has been a farmer's field for quite some time. Nothing has been growing on it for at least 6 years. We are trying a garden this year (the ground is also very hard). We are getting a lot of thistles coming through. Is there anything we can do about the hard soil and getting rid of the thistle problem?
By Juanita from Grande Prairie, AB
I am not much of a garden person but I can tell you what my father does every year. The only other advise would be to find someone else in your area you can talk to and ask them what methods they use to garden. Each year my father's neighbor comes by and runs a blade through the garden. Then he comes by at a later time and plows the garden (I also think he manures it once but I don't remember.
My father follows afterward and runs a rotor tiller through it. Large rocks are tossed to the side (which there are plenty of in this county). When he plants he uses different techniques. For some plants he uses a mixture of potting soil and fertilizer. For other plants he uses fish guts (I think this is with his corn).
Some things he plants by seed others he transplants. Finding someone in your area that has been gardening a while who is willing to talk to you about their successes would be a big bonus to your garden's success. Get a Farmer's Almanac, it will tell you the best time to plant which plants (or seeds). Talk to your agricultural dept in your county or state and they can give you good info. Especially regarding what to spray for certain kinds of bugs and what might be wrong with plants that are getting discolored or not growing well. They would more than likely know what chemicals (?) may be too rich or deprived in the local soil and have suggestions to remedy.
A successful garden benefits more from who you know than what you don't.
Weeds are a good indication of what kind of soil you have. As you have already guessed, thistles are a sign of compacted or clay soils. Your best bet is to till the area, and rake out as much of the thistle and roots that you can. Then fill the area with compost and composted manure (cow, horse, chicken, whatever is available, although horse and chicken have less weeds in it). Do this twice a year, until the soil is more workable and then once a year, should be fine for maintenance.
I'm guessing you've already planted the garden area. If so, lay several layers of black and white newspaper between the plants and rows and cover with mulch. This will help suppress the weeds and encourage earthworms to the area, which will help break up the compacted soil.
If you have not planted the soil, then lay newspaper over the whole garden and cover with mulch, chopped leaves, grass clippings, whatever you have and leave it until spring. I'd suggest doing this every fall as well. The paper will decompose over the winter and the worms will love it.
Improving the soil will take some time, but if you pile on the compost and manure, it will happen a little quicker.
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