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)
The Maya had a form of agriculture that was basically a transitioning forest. They had a number of different plots at various stages of growth from annual crops to mature forest.
They would first burn the land to clear it and put some of the scrub/brush back into the soil. Then they would plant the tree species that would eventually become a mature forest, along with their corn, squash, peppers, herbs, and everything else. They would harvest the annual crops for a couple years until the perennials crowded out the annuals. Then production would shift to tree fruits. Eventually the fruit trees would become timber. They would have enough plots in production that there was always a bit of each product, annuals, perennials and timber. This system mimics a forest and provides excellent habitat for a wide variety of animals.
For you, an alley design might provide more harvest efficiency, and you can see examples of that in the Gotsch agenda and Life in Syntropy. It works, but it's not as profitable initially as conventional agriculture which maximizes yield per square foot per season.
The row width and planting density is depending on how soon you want the tree canopy to shade out your crops. Closer plantings = fewer seasons of annuals. But you can always thin your trees later to open up more light.
Just remember to return the cut wood/brush/weeds to the soil to feed soil biology and add organic matter.
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:
Lovely summer night, lots of wine and beer on the go but I stuck to the orange juice and water. And those that did drink remained sober. I love garden parties because they are a lot more formal that a beer and BBQ cookout.
I had the meatballs and then sampled a lot sauces. The meatballs were good.
In general, kind of disappointed with the drinks though. My favorite was the frozen Tropical Mango smoothie which was really smooth but there wasn't a lot of mango which was nice.
I also think that a reduced amount of alcohol is good for the children. They should not see their parents get drunk.
I'm not sure my opinion on the alcohol in general, but for formal family outings it should be kept to a minimum.
I know it can ease the day for many parents, but the level of drinking at food & wine by the end of the night is a bit much for some people. It actually was not a problem and we did 3 reasonably late nights in a row last year with our, then 8&9 yo daughters.
At one of them we saw a woman who was so drunk she just wanted to sit in the parking lot, she just couldn't make it to the car. What should have bothered me more was that her friend was drunk too, and one of them was driving home.
I prefer to see family-friendly.
And that is what a garden party is, even if it is held in the evening.
This is a chance for you to have a family-friendly, picnic style outing so be sure to bring blankets and baskets with goodies!
The guests will provide snacks and drinks, including libations from Independence Brewery. But you also free to bring anything you want for yourselves or to share.
It makes for a wonderful atmophere.
I'm not a fan of the pre-mixed scary-blue fertilizers. I test my soil in a couple of locations in the spring (dead easy, get a cheap kit, they are not crazy-accurate but they are good enough), then I get whatever I might need to correct a lack of certain of the 3 really important nutrients:
Nitrogen: blood meal. Do not apply when windy, water in when done. Smells sort of bad when applied. Phosphorus: bone meal. Water in when done. Potassium: actually don't know as I've never had a low potassium reading.
I also correct pH for whatever I want to grow. Lime is the usual way to raise it (make it more alkaline) and you can use sphagnum peat to lower it (make it more acidic).
Your best bet is to compost and to get some good sterilized manure mix. Adding these to your garden yearly will be a bigger plus than trying to be a chemist about it -- they will have a yoinkload of the NPK as well as micronutrients that NPK testing and "scary blue" fertilizers tend to ignore.
The problem with putting non-sterilized manure on crops is that you might introduce funky bacteria to the soil. This is usually fine because bacteria that like intestinal tracts don't tend to like being in the ground, but it's a good idea to keep your crops off it; e.g. don't rest your tomatoes on it. I know, this is common sense stuff, oh well.
To be fair, you can totally get away without the testing kit and just adding "stuff" to your garden every year, but I'm a geek and prefer to know numbers and stuff.
There are no health issues from using Miracle-Gro.
There are probably environmental issues due to runoff getting into the water table -- the worst thing that happens here is that fertilizer gets into streams/ponds and causes algae blooms.