The Barefoot Gardener: From the Ground Up, Part 4

Listen to this Article
3 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

Mix amendments thoroughly in your new garden plot. Photo: J.M. Buck

Building a garden from the ground up, part four of five.

Black Gold: Turning dirt into fertile soil, part two.

When we left off, we were discussing soil amendments for high-salinity beach areas. I’m sure some of you felt like you were watching a really good TV show and at the most suspenseful part, “To be continued…” scrolled across the screen. I’ll try not to do that again.

Amend your soil, continued…

If you live in a high-salinity area, like near the ocean, and had a chance to get your soil pH and salt levels checked, then you may know that you will need a lot of compost—doubling the recommended amount of two to three cubic feet per 100 square feet to four to six cubic feet 100 square feet is a good idea.


You can also use some well-rotted steer manure; however, check the label for salt content. You want it to be as low as possible.

For Volcano and regions with that lovely red dirt that doubles as clothing dye, guarans-ball-bearins you’ve got acidic soil. So unless you plan on being a sweet potato farmer (sweet potatoes thrive in acidic soil), you’ll need to add dolomitic lime to bring up the pH. You won’t need much—a little goes a long way. You can buy it at just about any hardware store that carries garden supplies. Just make sure it’s dolomite.

For hardpan clay, you’ll want to double up on compost like your shore-dwelling neighbors.

Mixing it up

Now that you’ve filled your shopping list, all of you except for those in Volcano, Glenwood, Mountain View, and parts of Waimea can take the amendments listed for your specific area and spread them in the recommended amounts over your turned garden plot.

Don’t worry, Vulcanites and paniolo. I’ll get to you in a minute.


Using a shovel or a rototiller, mix the amendments in thoroughly with the existing dirt. Break up any clumps in the manure and remove any rocks you may have missed during the sifting process described last time.

Once you are finished, water the area deeply. By deeply, I mean have a sprinkler on it for at least 45 minutes.

Hilo-side folks probably only need to wait for the next downpour. You will know the ground is wet enough when water starts to pool.

Okay, mountain dwellers; your turn. You need to “sweeten” your soil first. Wearing gloves and a dust mask or respirator, cast a light coating of dolomite lime over your plot. Don’t get heavy-handed—you want to still be able to see the ground through the lime. I find it best to halve the application amount on the back of the package, at least to start with. After applying, water deeply. Don’t add your amendments yet.

Water well once each morning day for three days, or just hang out until the week long rainstorm stops. If the sun miraculously comes out on the fourth day, use a soil pH test kit and test for acidity. If it’s still in the highly acidic range (below 5.0), add more dolomite and repeat the three-day process until you have a pH between 6 and 7. If you plan on growing sweet potatoes, make a special area for them and leave the pH alone.


After you’ve gotten the soil sweet enough, add your amendments as described above and water deeply.

For all areas, water your newly amended plot each morning for about 20 minutes, unless it’s already raining, obviously. Do this for a week before planting anything. This gives the soil time to “settle.” Try to resist the urge to go nuts and start planting everything immediately. It’s difficult, but you can do it.

Next week we’ll start planting.

Happy gardening!

The Barefoot Gardener: From the Ground Up, Part 1
The Barefoot Gardener: From the Ground Up, Part 2
The Barefoot Gardener: From the Ground Up, Part 3

J.M. Buck
J.M. Buck has been a Hawai‘i news writer and columnist since 2003. She has extensive writing experience and has served the media industry in a variety of capacities, including news editor, investigative reporter, online publisher, columnist, web content writer, graphic designer and photographer. She has lived in the Hawaiian Islands for most of her life and is a graduate of University of Hawai‘i.
Read Full Bio

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Big Island Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments