One thing a beginning farmer learns quickly, according to Shawn Rana and other experienced “dirt hands,” is the value of good fertilizer and the fact that the ground doesn’t automatically come mixed correctly. Some plots have too much clay, some have insufficient nutrients, some have significant pest problems, and others can be worse, poisoned by previous human presence. Assuming the situation is not the last category, Shawn Rana advises that beginning farmers get a feel for their working soil first before adding anything.
Beginning a Farm Starts with Water and Soil
The first step in soil preparation is to see what it does with water. Clay is notorious for being very resistant to water and has a poor absorption rate. Porous soil will soak up water quickly, leaving very little to puddle or sit on the top.
Next, Shawn Rana suggests, roto-till the earth in question. Break up the hardpan so the soil is crumbly, separated, and easy to move around. Little will grow in hard compacted dirt, and young roots can’t penetrate the earth in that condition. Shawn Rana also notes watch out for earthworms. Good soil will have plenty of them, with the helpful creatures becoming immediately apparent as the soil is turned over.
Match the Fertilizer to the Farm
With the ground treated and turned over, it’s time to consider mixing in additional ingredients based on one’s findings. Shawn Rana points out beginners will be faced with an assortment of fertilizer choices, not all of which are correct. Chemical fertilizers are common and tend to be for specific conditions and crops. Starting farmers, Shawn Rana advises, should start out with lower grades of fertilizers when still deciding what to plant and grow or learning what works for a given soil mixture. This lower grade alternative choice releases smaller amounts of nutrients into the soil which, Shawn Rana notes, tend to be similar to natural components already in the soil that any plant can thrive on.
Think About Timing and Seasonal Needs
The big difference between chemical fertilizers and organic ones, Shawn Rana finds, is that the chemical choices are for larger scale farming and when used on smaller scale farms, for quick boosts to tired soil that has already had multiple crops and needs a quick injection of nutrients. Chemical fertilizers dissolve fast and work quickly and help feed the world we live in. Shawn Rana reminds beginner farmers there is no perfect mix; everyone has to learn about their soil and find the right balance for their particular condition. However, it can be very helpful for starting farmers to check with others in the same area and learn from their experience. Shawn Rana reminds folks, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it’s already been done by someone else.