I, personally, prefer compost as the source of nutrients because it's slower to release - you can burn your plant with miracle gro, but if you put in too much compost the thing that would happen first would be the plant drying from drowning (compost holds a lot of moisture).
The big problem is that a new gardener doesn't usually have enough compost on hand to do their entire garden.
It can be purchased, but even "organic" compost is a little iffy.
Someone once told me something akin to "The best gardeners are growers and tenders of the soil, plants and edibles are a side-effect of healthy soil."
Think of inorganic fertilizer as fast food for plants. It works for what it is designed to do - help provide the macronutrients that help plants grow fast and big.
Organic compost is more holistic, feeding the micro organisms in the soil, who in turn help facilitate the movement of nutrients to plant roots, help good bacteria and fungi multiple, provide increased air circulation and moisture holding qualities (assume this is valuable in your area), provide food sources for worms who break materials down even more finely, etc. Compost also has micronutrients that you likely want available in your plants so it becomes part of your harvested crop.
Inorganic fertilizers have a role, but I have never used them in my gardens.
Horse manure can be problematic depending upon the horse's diet. Many horses are fed large amounts of mineral supplements (i.e. zinc) that are never digested and end up in manure. These supplements can accumulate very quickly when applied as compost and start wreaking havoc on your soil.
I would reccomend looking into getting the manure tested. I personally know of two different farms that have had large problems due to bad horse manure.
If you would like to do a raised Lasagna Garden the layers are:
Bottom to top:
- Horse Manure
- Dead Leaves/ Hay/ Grass (Whatever you find)
I've read that the biggest problem with sandy soils is leeching of nutrients. So how should you approach sandy soil when you establish your garden? First take your time and do the double digging.
I'd broadfork or pitchfork the soil to break up compaction then do the standard sheet mulching. More often than not there's some compaction that you want to break up and aerate before you establish perennials.
It's also not the worst thing to till marginal and/or disturbed sites if you are establishing a long term garden.
Often you are working with pretty degraded and compacted land and tilling can restore some better conditions.
Just remember that tilling is a major disturbance and you'll need to restore the biology afterwards so doing a good top dress of biologically active compost before sheet mulching is a pretty good idea.
Organic matter is going to help with the biology and biology is going to help with the beach. I don't have tons of experience with sandy soils but my understanding is you can turn them fairly easily with soil ecology. The main thing is getting good compost out.
Most soil organisms aren't going to move much more than the top two inches except for fungi which will colonize anything wet and aerobic enough to support them. So build a lot of fungal foods into your mulch layers.
I think I read you already had a lot of wood chips and sawdust out so that's a good start.
The solution is to start with biochar before layering/mulching. This reduces the need for additional nutrients over time because the biochar retains the nutrients that would otherwise be washed away. I've not tested this theory but it would be worth reading up on as it could save you a lot if work. Here is a great video I found showing how to make your own biochar.
Still the science isn't totally in yet. Here's a study to watch:
I was at my uncles house and I just watched his neighbor burn off his garden. He said that he would burn their garden every winter and told me that is better than just tilling your garden every summer.
I don't know anyone that does that. I do know some people burn their weeds.
The issue that I would have with burning your garden is that ash can be high in pH. So, if you had super acidic soil that could be something that could be beneficial, but I'd advise not planting things like blueberries or potatoes in that environment.
I think it makes most sense to pull certain plants (tomatoes, for instance, often harbor diseases that you don't want in the soil for the following year) and then try to compost the rest of the dead plants. Compost is going to be more beneficial than ash, overall, since it'll be chock full of nutrients which your next year's plants need.
There's always the option of just leaving the plants, as well, since it can help with run off, etc.
I don't till at all, and just layer compost, leaves, etc.
My neighbors on the other hand till every year and their garden is awesome, but because we live in a rainy area they start their garden much later than I do because tilling wet soil is going to do the exact opposite of what you want.
This year I'm experimenting with a cover crop of daikon radishes, so I'm pretty excited to see if that helps with soil structure and nutrients.
I have tried the Back To Eden Style on one of my gardens for a couple years at which time it seemed to make sense.
It does make weeding easier and kept the soil moist, but almost too moist. Had some fungus issues every year with cucumbers and zucchini, tomatoes never really took off either where I was trying this method. I have come to the conclusion that the best way for me to garden is using raised beds. Anything I've tried in a raised bed grows great. I'm no expert either, just been vegetable gardening for about 4 years now. My first piece of advice for anyone just starting out at this point is go with raised beds if you can.
Few weeds, less need for water, and my plants seemed to do well. When I first started it - my soil was pretty clayful but the plants seemed to do well. I've since moved to an area with sandier soil, we'll see how my garden goes this year. I've had it mulched through the winter.
You don't till.
Tilling can disrupt all the microorganisms and worms and whatnot living underground. Add a barrier that will break down- mostly heavily moistened newspaper or cardboard- over the entire area you want your garden, then layer on compost, then layer on woodchips. You usually top dress amendments, but eventually, after a few years, you shouldn't have to amend the soil at all. The chips protect the plants from moisture loss so you water less and they decompose over time- adding fresh compost.
As rain falls, it pulls nutrients down with it, adding it to the soil. Additionally, weeds don't root well in loose chips, so you just rake them away. You just have to add fresh chips from time to time, year to year.
There are other similar methods.
Lasagna gardening is intermittent layers of this, that and the other directly on top of existing soil. I know less about it.
You're overthinking this. Hydroponics has different rules than in-ground or container gardening with soil and potting mixes, and other than the fact that fertilizing in the two disciplines uses the same 13 elements, they are worlds apart. It's like trying to take the rules for patisserie and apply them to deep-fried donuts. Both disciplines use flour, sugar, and fat, but in completely different ways.
Do a simple flow chart: Organic or Chemical?
That's all you need to know.
There are people who obsess over the precise temperature of the ice water you pour into pie crust, and there are people who let it go at "meh, cold water". They both end up with nice pies.
Honestly I find it much more intuitive to treat the symptom in the beginning while learning your specific soil and growing condition needs.
All foliage and not flowers?
Too much nitrogen not enough potassium and phosphorus. Malformed leaves or blossom end rot? Not enough calcium and likely too much potassium. Yellowing leaves and no symptoms of potassium or nitrogen deficiency? Up the phosphorus.
Generally speaking--very generally speaking--N is for leaves, P is for roots, and K is for blooms. This is just a useful mnemonic in case anybody ever asks, but all plants need all three elements. Most of the "bloom booster" types of chemical fertilizer is mostly hype.
So stop worrying about it, and just give your plants some food.
There is tons and tons (and tons and tons) of information out there on organic gardening with organic, i.e. non-chemical, fertilizers, not only on the internet but also at the local public library. Rodale Press is the biggie at the library, and Mother Earth News has a ton of online articles.
Start with a soil test. N-P-K are your major nutrients. P and K are pretty stable in the soil, your soil test will tell you if you need to enrich. N degrades into the atmosphere. You'll probably need to refresh it year over year via compost, other amendments, or fertilizer.
There's a host of micronutrients -iron, calcium, zinc, etc. These may be plentiful in your soil, but their availability to your plants is limited by your soil's pH. Your soil test will tell you your ranges and pH.
So, the simple rules of fertilizer are:
- get your soil tested
- add P (phosphorus) and K (potassium) as called for in your test results.
- count on adding N (nitrogen) regularly
- correct pH if necessary
- add micronutrients as necessary after your soil pH is corrected.
The last two bullets are very plant-dependent, but most of your normal veg gardens are made up of plants that like it in the middle.
Look up your county and 'free soil tests', most of the US allows folks to get one or two freebies a year and it's going to be way more accurate than a kit.