About that Red Soil

The other day a local farmer came and gave me a consult on the soil in my garden.  As I feared, the red soil is of very poor quality, which is why no squash (not even zucchini!) grow after their initial burst of energy where they get their nutrients from the seed.  Apparently lettuce can grow pretty much anywhere but squashes are “heavy feeders.”

I’ve been trying to remedy the problem by making my own compost.  Here is the second batch we’ve made since moving here in January.  It doesn’t look like much but you can tell the soil on the right is substantially darker in color than the original red soil on the left.  Also, the composted soil on the right smells like good dirt.








So, what I decided to do was to create dedicated raised beds and then focus on improving the quality of soil within those beds.  This approach meant that I had less surface area to cover with good soil and ensured that all of the improved soil would be dedicated to produce.

On part of this 5-acre property we live on is a little dump yard area.  Being a good African I went and surveyed what we could scavenge from this dump to make our raised beds.

There were chipped and broken up cement blocks, as well as scrap metal siding and roofing.







One of the things I didn’t bring here but wish I had was a wheelbarrow!  Poor Danny had to painstakingly walk the blocks and metal from the dump to the garden.

The beds came out beautifully.  The back two on the left are made with scrap metal held in by sticks.










We made the beds around the existing crops so we’re going to wait to improve the soil in those beds when the crops are done.  However, there were a couple of empty beds ready for soil improvement.

Now, where do we find improved soil?  Along Leopard’s Hill road are a few ad-hoc piles of dirt.  We stopped at the one that had the darkest soil and that also advertised on an old piece of plywood, “composted cow manure.”  Turns out that the guy selling this soil was the gardener for the Swedish and Finnish embassy.  He said we should mix one bag cow manure to two bags top soil.  We bought as many as we could fit in our truck and he filled old cement bags with the dirt and manure.







I know all of you gardeners out there will rejoice in the dark soil.  Isn’t it pretty?


Here’s one of the beds we prepped with the new soil mixture.  We mixed together one bag of our compost, one bag of composted manure and two bags of top soil.


It still looks too red but compared to the existing bed below, it’s a huge improvement.







Little by little, we’re getting this place in great shape for the renters five years down the road who’ll have a beautiful healthy garden and orchard.  🙂



















About Kimm X Jayne

Gravatar Photograph from the exceptionally talented Ben Heine. http://www.flickr.com/photos/benheine/3794765860/
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16 Responses to About that Red Soil

  1. Lisa says:

    Kimm –you’re doing a great job on the garden! The beds look pretty and organized and I’m sure you’ll reap a ton of benefits with the next harvest!!!

  2. Mikey says:

    Can’t even grow zucchini? Is that possible? Is that a curse or a blessing?

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      I know, it’s unfathomable. I’ve tried twice already and after a robust start they die at the vine stage. I’ve just planted some new ones in the improved soil so we’ll see if that solves the problem.

  3. Those farming roots in your blood are really evident!! I’m learning a lot about gardening from your blog! Love ‘ya…Cheryl

  4. Maureen Witte says:

    Have you asked why that soil is so red? Is there a lot of some kind of mineral in it?

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      Thom says red soil means it has a lot of iron in it. I just found this from a govt website:
      “The red color in soil usually indicates a high amount of iron, in the form of iron oxide, that coats the particles of the soil. The iron oxide can be inherited from the parent material or can form as a result of intense weathering over a long period of time.”

  5. Jens says:

    Enjoy the harvest of your work. You did a great job in the garden.
    BTW: We do have a garden in Germany waiting for such an enthusiastic farmer like you. 🙂

  6. Joanne Hutchinson says:

    Hello Kimm,
    I was wondering if you know if the rural farmers compost in Western Zambia? Is the soil there red like yours. I was going to bring a print out on how to make a composter for Njamba’s Dad. I was thinking they could make it out of Maize stocks if wood is hard to find. What do you think?
    Also my friends daughter, Jami ( 19yrs old) will be joining me on my trip to visit Njamba so I will be in touch closer to our arrival date. Jami is from Michegan as well. Great articles as usual. You could write a book like ” Lets Go Lusaka”. Keep up the great work!

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      hmmmm….I have no idea. Maybe another reader would know. My husband doesn’t know either. One of the things my husband’s project has found is that training and extension services have big pay-offs. They’ve given their recommendations to the govt so we’ll see what happens. Yes, please do contact me closer to the date — on Sun the 21st we’re going to the market, yes?

  7. This is great honey child. I know you are one with yourself now that your hands will get dirty and your fingernails will be stained.

  8. Kimm X Jayne says:

    and cut and burned too from endless hours of stained glass. miss you.

  9. Stuart says:

    Hey, those raised beds look great! As I mentioned in my original post, I have been following the Conservation Farming Unit efforts to improve yields on Zambian farms. They had the most fantastic homepage full of downloadable fliers on conservation farming practices. Then they redid their homepage and it has been under construction ever since. How disappointing! The fliers and photos have been inaccessible for months. Anyway, they recommended planting a special kind of tree called Faidherbia Albida, maybe called Musangu in Zambia. This tree grows well in Zambia and has leaves very rich in nitrogen which have the habit of falling off the tree at the start of the rainy season in Zambia. The trees therefore don’t shade the ground during the growing season, but the leaves are supposed to be fantastic natural fertilizer for the ground. They plant these trees right in the middle of the farm fields! It might be fun to grow one of these trees, if you don’t already have some wild ones on your property. Oh, your bags of topsoil mixed with manure look great, too. Keep us posted on the progress of your garden.

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