Spring Garden Soil Elixir

Spring Soil

Spring Soil

One of the most anticipated times of year for gardeners is Spring, with the attendant planting season. Everything is new and fresh; a chance to start over and improve on last year’s garden. A big subject and one that causes no end of concern, worry and frustration to gardeners is what to do with the soil to prepare it for planting. If you have been reading our blog posts over the past 3 years, you know that we advocate building the health and vitality of the soil in a natural, biologically safe manner. Soil becomes healthier, more productive, disease, weed and pest resistant. It results in an upward spiral where the garden gets better year after year.

Here is a unique recipe for a Spring garden elixir that is easy to mix, completely non-toxic and hugely beneficial to jump-starting your garden’s soil in getting it ready for planting. It comes courtesy of Crop Services International, who has over 35 years experience in helping growers accomplish their goals. They provide a Non-Toxic/Biological/Sustainable approach to growing food, from a full scale commercial farm to the home gardener. We are currently studying “The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook” that they wrote to educate ourselves more on improving our knowledge and approach.

This recipe is based on a 20′ x 50′ garden, or 1000 sq. ft. Make the adjustments for your garden size.

Spring Garden Soil Elixir

2 to 4 weeks before your local planting date, apply the lime to the soil evenly with a spreader. Then spread the compost evenly on top of the lime.

Mix together in a 5 gallon bucket-

  • 20-24 oz liquid fish fertilizer
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 16 oz bottle of cola – NOT DIET!
  • 2 12 oz cans of beer (!)
  • 1/2 cup of Borax powder
  • 1 qt cranberry juice – make sure to get 100% cranberry juice, not a dilution
  1. Mix well with a stirrer and thin with enough water to enable mixture to be sprayed with a tank type or hose-end sprayer.
  2. It must be noted that the sprayer cannot have been used to spray any chemical treatments like herbicides, pesticides, etc. as this will put those chemicals onto your soil, killing the microbial life in the soil and feeding the chemicals to the plants, where you wind up eating them!
  3. Apply the mix evenly over lime and compost base with sprayer. If needed, go back over with second application to use up all of the batch, just make sure to apply evenly.
  4. Broad-fork or lightly rototill garden soil. If using a rototiller, don’t go more than 4 inches deep at the maximum. Most of the biological growth happens at the 2-3 inch mark and the soil is turned over an inch or so beyond what the tines reach. Tilling deeper only destroys microbial life in the soil, setting you back in your efforts to create and build biologically active soil.

Buy a 50 lb bag of high calcium lime (calcitic limestone or calcium carbonate) from your local garden center. It needs to be high calcium lime with as low magnesium as possible. 5% or less is great, up to 10% is acceptable, but nothing over 10%. A higher magnesium percentage causes a release of nitrogen in your soil, greatly decreasing its fertility. It also overloads both the chemical and biological processes of soil. Do not buy Dolomite lime, as it has too much magnesium. High calcium lime is best for soils at a pH of 7 or below. For soils with a pH of 7 or higher, use gypsum (calcium sulfate).

When purchasing the fish fertilizer, if you can find one that also has kelp or seaweed, even better. If you want the absolute best fish emulsion possible, brew your own! Read the “Best Homemade Fish Emulsion” for the recipe and instructions.

Blackstrap molasses is best for its increased mineral content. Unsulphured is preferred, but not absolutely necessary. One of the best sources of inexpensive molasses is a feed store that supplies horses, as it can be bought by the gallon for much less than at a supermarket.

100 lbs of rich, well-rotted, seasoned compost to add to garden soil. This can be purchased or from your own compost pile.

Do not buy diet cola, as the Aspartame/NutriSweet used as the sweetener acts as a chelating agent, meaning it ties up the minerals and nutrients in the soil making them unavailable to the plants. (It also does the same thing in your body!) The cola has Phosphorus to add to the mix along with sugars.

The beer adds B vitamins- no, not vitamin Beer!

The Borax powder adds Boron, one of the most important elements in the biochemical sequence of plant growth.

Once you have applied the elixir and broad-forked or lightly tilled the soil, get your garden planning and seedlings ready. We have another planting elixir to use just after planting the seeds and transplanting the seedlings into the garden that we’ll share with you: in a gallon milk jug mix – 1/2 cup of fish emulsion, 1 tsp sugar (preferably raw or brown) and 1/2 cup of cola, fill with water and shake well. Apply over seeds and transplants. Each gallon will treat approximately a 50 foot row.

This is a great start towards sustainable, biological agriculture in your own garden. Remember, though, it is just a start; a good step in the right direction. To continue to make progress in knowledge and in soil health, you need to find out where you are starting from. Do more reading, ask questions and get a complete soil analysis, not just the NPK and pH soil tests that are widely offered. Spend the $50 or so and find out exactly where your garden soil is at, and then you will be able to make sound decisions on where you want and need to go. Then you won’t be guessing and shooting in the dark, trying to do what is right but not really knowing if you are making positive progress.

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21 Responses to Spring Garden Soil Elixir

  1. Ghislaine March 7, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    Do you mean the Borax that you can find in supermarkets or a different kind?

    • Stephen March 8, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

      Hello Ghislaine-

      Yes, 20 Mule Team Borax is what you are looking for.

  2. Ghislaine March 8, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    Great! Thank you, Stephen. I’ll try that.

  3. Jill March 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    I got a bit confused. It is the second list of ingredients that covers 1,000 sq ft, right? And the 50# of lime and 100# of compost are for that much area as well? Thanks for the fun recipe! (Though I never thought of Coke as non-toxic before!)

    • Stephen March 11, 2012 at 11:18 am #

      Hello Jill-

      Yes, the second list is the recipe, the first list is the list of what to buy for the garden to help this year’s production and growth.

      Coke or commercial colas are good for helping to start the soil building process, as well as an acid wash to clean greasy, grimy auto parts and baked on grease in kitchen pots and pans. Just soak them for a few hours and the parts will come out shiny clean! Scary to think that is the same acid that many folks drink!

  4. claudia de fino March 10, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    What does the cranberry juice contribute to the soil?

    • Stephen March 11, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      Hello Claudia-

      cranberry juice is full of vitamins and minerals, as well as acting as an anti-bacterial agent and having an acidic pH. Depending on how the juice is processed, it can contain significant amino acids as well.

  5. Inna March 12, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    Thank you for the recipe! Will give it a try this year. I have already worked the soil and added bone meal. Would adding this, be an overkill? Thank you!

    • Stephen March 12, 2012 at 8:37 am #

      Hello Inna-

      Bone meal is a good slow-release source for calcium and phosphorus, with some nitrogen value. Depending on how much bone meal you have applied, you might cut the amount of lime in half or less. I would use the rest of the recipe to give the garden a great jump-start.

  6. Kat Conner March 14, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Do you have a spring elixir for North Florida gardening. Our soil tends to be 6.5 ish ph and, of course, sandy.

    Thanks.

    • Stephen March 14, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

      Hello Kat-

      This is a great elixer for getting a sandy soil ready for a great season. Just follow it using the lime instead of gypsum. The lime is alkaline and will raise the pH while getting the calcium into the soil and available for the plants. You might want to add a bit more than the 100 lbs of compost for the 1000 sq. ft garden to boost the nutrient holding capacity of your sandy soil.

  7. Madelyn April 20, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    Thanks for the recipe! I just mixed up a batch today. Do I have to wait 2 to 4 weeks to plant?

    • Stephen April 20, 2012 at 11:42 am #

      Hello Madelyn-

      I would wait the 2 weeks if possible, but 1 week will probably give enough time to get things energized and started back to life in the soil. Remember that you can always re-apply the mixture once a month when the garden is really growing, just leave out the Borax, as it is only needed once at the beginning of the season.

      Let me know how it works!

  8. Connie Pipitone June 16, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    Wow wish I saw this before I planted my garden. I have above ground garden and loaded it with mushroom soil last year and had plants and tomatoes ,and green peppers that looked like they had been on steroids never before such high peppers and tomatoes. This year tilled it up with lime and peat moss and miracle grow soil about 3 50 lbs. Bags which were a lot. I hope it’s enough for this year. My question is any hints for cantaloupe an water melon I never have good luck with them. I am in North West Virginia.

    • Stephen June 18, 2013 at 11:38 am #

      Thanks Connie! We hope that it helps you this year. During the height of the growing season, a good application is 1/4 to 1/2 cup of blackstrap molasses, 2 cups of milk mixed into a gallon of water and give each plant a drink. The sugars help keep flowering and fruiting in high gear, along with feeding the soil microbes to keep the nutrients flowing.

      Watermelon and cantaloupe like hot days and cooler nights, along with a limestone base in the soil. Some folks use newspaper under each melon to help prevent ground rot of the fruit.

  9. Julie Dunnier December 1, 2013 at 4:57 am #

    We recently moved to GA. I have a few earth boxes for my garden but would like to also add an area for square foot gardening. I have a small area. Our soil is clay so I will need to add new soil. Any help on what I should buy would be greatly appreciated.

    • Stephen December 2, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

      Julie, take a look at our “Building Great Soil” section for more in-depth advice on how to build some really healthy soil. This will help you in the long term on converting the clay into a rich fertile soil. IN the meantime for a small section or for container gardening, we’ve had good experience with and recommend Mel Bartholemew’s Square Foot Gardening Soil that comes in a bag and can be bought at most Home Depot or Lowe’s garden centers, and better-stocked garden centers. It has soil, compost, mycorrhizal fungi along with other goodies to help the vegetables grow, without chemical fertilizers.

  10. Melissa February 12, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    This article is awesome! I have been trying to figure out how I could organically build up my soil this spring. This seems like a great start! Thanks again for helpful information on organic gardening! Where would you recommend getting a soil test done?

    • Stephen February 19, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

      Melissa, either Crop Services Int’l or Texas Plant and Soil Lab. There are a number of other, equally great soil labs out there, I recommend these two because they know and understand home gardener’s needs as well as full scale farmer’s.
      Thanks for the kind words!

  11. Marilyn Blessum March 8, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    I thought regular pasteurized American beer is lacking the B-vitamins that non-pasteurized beer had, such as in German beer. Am I wrong?

    • Stephen March 9, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

      Marilyn, you are correct that mass-produced beer has been pasteurized and has lost much of the B vitamins that unfiltered, unpasteurized beers from craft breweries produce, but will still have some nutrients left. It is best to use home-brewed or craft-brewed beer for the best results.

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