Diagram by Joshua McNichols
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Backyard Feast: How to rebuild urban soils (Diagram)

By Joshua McNichols, author of the Urban Farm Handbook

If you've ever gardened in the city, you've probably noticed our soil isn't so hot.

Sometimes you get lucky -- like when the former owner of your house used a mulching mower for 50 years. But more often, we urbanites are blessed with a thin layer of organic matter over compacted clay or sand. New gardens in Seattle sometimes thrive for a year or two, even without being amended. But then, when nutrients are exhausted, there's a year of disease and pests that can throw new gardeners into a funk.

A garden is only as healthy as its soil, and one of the first steps to creating a healthy garden is rebuilding your soil. Above is a handy chart to help you assess which strategies to employ. The first question is: How crazy do you want to be?

If you're unfamiliar with some of the techniques mentioned in this chart, don't fret. (What kind of fertilizer? What the heck is biochar?) When properly built, good soil is like a sponge. It sucks up moisture and nutrients and releases them slowly. It buffers your plants against stressors such as ill-timed fertilizer application and drought. And just as it buffers your plants against the extremes of nature, it also buffers them against mistakes you might make. Over time, the more effort you invest in your soil, the more forgiving it becomes.

Kind of like a marriage. You may choose to neglect it, but if you do, you'll pay in the end. :)

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