Yesterday I was telling my friend, Phenom, how the rain has been killing me, because the soil has been wet for over a week, and will likely continue to be wet for at least the next week, so I can’t get in and prepared the rest of the beds because you aren’t supposed to work the soil when it’s wet. She started at me blankly and suggested that maybe this would be a good blog post. So here it is.
The rule does seem a little random. Like something competitive gardening-types would say to everyone loudly, and then turn around and secretly work in thunderstorms when no one is watching. And then laugh with their friends over tea as their gardens flourish while everyone else is left scratching their heads with lame gardens.
But after some research, I can assure you that it is true: Do not work the soil when it is wet.
Garden soil ideally has a porous structure. When the soil is wet, and you start moving it around, it becomes much more dense, becoming impermeable to air, water, and even the plant root system. Yesterday I was paging through this book: Plant Propagation in Pictures, and the author demonstrates how seeds will not even germinate in soil that has been worked when wet.
From my own experience with compact soils, I can say that adding vermiculite to my perennial raised bed has completely improved the health of all the plants therein, without adding any new soil or compost. In 2010, when I built the raised bed, I just hauled in compost, but was too lazy to add in vermiculite in the first place, thinking that it wouldn’t be a big deal. This spring I finally got to it, and the change is extreme. What used to be tiny little strawberry plants have turned into ginormous monsters.