For the last several years we’ve been using a method suggested in the video “Back to Eden,” where we layer good compost with wood chips of various sizes. In this video, Paul Gautschi explains how it occurred to him that the best dirt accumulates in forests: that nice, springy humus that’s a combination of leaves, old logs, branches, pine needles and other decaying plant matter. He decided to try to replicate this in his garden, with beautiful results. (Disclaimer: he goes a bit overboard, in my opinion, with connecting this to the Bible, but his gardening advice is really incredible!) After doing this for several years, I can vouch for the fact that this is very effective! Each year it gets easier to pull weeds and dig potatoes, to name a few tasks that are generally difficult in our clay-filled Northwest soil. To learn more of the technical information behind this video without the biblical references, read this paper.
We also use a natural fertilizer, the recipe of which can be found in the book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. This is a great resource for gardeners in the rainy half of Oregon and Washington, a Northwest gardener’s “bible,” if you will. You can get it in both print and digital versions. The fertilizer recipe includes a couple kinds of lime, seed meal, phosphate rock or bone meal, and kelp meal. The goal, in layman’s (or laywoman’s) terms, is to get the microbes that are in the soil to eat the fertilizer, and then poop it out in a form that creates healthy nutrients for the soil. You can read the book for instructions about how and when to apply it–there are many instructions! You can put it in the soil below the plant if you’re planting it when it’s already fairly large, and/or you can sprinkle some along the sides of the plant later on in the growing season, far enough out from the stalk so that the nutrients from the microbes’ waste get to the roots of the plant. This is really effective, and no chemicals are needed!