Category Archives: Soil

OF COMPOST, MICROWAVES, AND BLUEBERRIES

Manure Unnecessary

Manure or not, it’s compost time. I like to make enough compost through summer so that it can get cooking before autumn’s cold weather sets in. Come spring, I give the pile one turn and by the midsummer the black gold is ready to slather onto vegetable beds or beneath choice trees and shrubs.

I haven’t gotten around to getting some manure for awhile so I just went ahead this morning and started building a new pile without manure. It’s true: You do not need manure to make compost. Any pile of organic materials will decompose into compost given enough time.

My piles are a little more deliberate than mere heaps of organic materials. For one thing, everything goes into square bins each about 4′ on a side and built up, along with the materials within, Lincoln-log style from notched 1 x 6 manufactured wood decking. Another nice feature of this …

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DRIP WORK

Many Benefits of Drip

I’m a big fan of drip irrigation, an irrigation system by which water is frequently, but slowly, applied to the soil. It’s better for plants because soil moisture is replenished closer to the rate at which they drink it up. With a sprinkler, soil moisture levels vacillate between feast and famine.

Because of the efficient use of water, drip is also better for the environment, typically using 60 percent less water than sprinkling.

And drip is better for me — and you, if your garden or farmden is dripped. By pinpointing water to garden plants, large spaces between plants stay dry so there’s less weeds for us to pull. And best of all, with an inexpensive timer at the hose spigot, I turn on the system in April and then pretty much forget about watering until the end of the growing season.

Troubleshooting

Today I was reminded about the “pretty much” …

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“SPARROWGRASS” RENOVATION

The Season Ends

Asparagus season has ended here now, after more than two months of harvest. From now till they yellow in autumn, the green fronds will gather sunlight which, along with nutrients and water, will pack away energy into the roots, energy that will fuel next year’s harvest.

In addition to dealing with the weather, the plants have to contend with weeds. I have to admit, despite being the author of the book Weedless Gardening, that my asparagus bed each year is overrun with weeds, mostly two species(!) of oxalis, creeping Charlie, and various grasses. Also weeds parading as asparagus, self-sown plants. This, even though I planted all male varieties. Any batch of male plants typically has a certain, low percentage of female plants. (Still, my garden is weed-less even if it’s not weedless.)

I always wondered about the recommendation to plant asparagus crowns in deep trenches that are gradually filled …

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LIBERATED, AT LAST

Exposée

My garden was liberated yesterday, the soil freed at last. That’s when I peeled back and folded up the black tarps that had been covering some of the vegetable beds since early April. My beautiful soil finally popped into view.

Covering the ground was for the garden’s own good. “Tarping,” as this technique is called, gets the growing season off to a weed-less start. The black cover warms the ground to awaken weed seeds. They sprout, then die as they use up their energy reserves which, without light, can’t be replenished and built up. (I first learned of this technique in J. M. Fortier’s book The Market Gardener.)

Tarping is very different from the much more common way of growing plants in holes in black plastic film, even if one purpose of the soil covering, in both cases, is to snuff out weeds. Black plastic film is left in place all season …

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VEGETABLE MATTERS

Homebound? Plant Vegetables!

Working from home, I’m used to being homebound. And I like it. Not everyone feels this way, and now COVID-19 has forced this situation on many people.

For anyone who isn’t growing some vegetables, if there ever was a time to start a vegetable garden, it’s now. 

A garden will provide pleasant and interesting diversion, some exercise, a chance to be outdoors, the need for less frequent trips to the market, a good family project/activity, and some savings of food dollars. And the experience of — wonder of wonders — watching seeds sprout and grow into plants.

Growing vegetables is easy. Seeds have been practicing sprouting for millions of years. That’s what they do. Sprout. And plants have been doing likewise. 

Paying attention to some basic plant needs will make your garden even more successful. As far as soil, don’t worry about fertility or acidity for now. The most important consideration is …

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To Shred or Not To Shred, That is the Question

Organic Matters

My friend Margaret Roach (https://awaytogarden.com) is a top-notch gardener but not much of a tool maven. She recently said she considers me, and I quote, “the master of all tools and the king of compost” when she asked for my thoughts on compost shredders. (I blushed, but perhaps she was just softening me up for questioning. In fact, her tractor is better than mine.)

Of course I have thoughts about compost shredders.

Climb with me into my time machine and let’s travel back to the early 1970s, to Madison, Wisconsin, where you’ll find me working in my first garden. Like any good organic gardener, early on I appreciated the many benefits of organic materials in the garden, an appreciation bolstered by my having recently began my studies as a graduate student in soil science.

I was hauling all the organic materials I could lay hands on into my 700 square foot …

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I Think My Vegetables are Nutritious

Nutrient Declines in Fruits and Vegetables

Growing vegetables is really quite simple. You put the seeds or transplants into sunny ground, you water and weed, and then you harvest your bounty. For that small effort, you can put on your plate food that is organically, sustainably, and (very) locally grown. Perhaps even richer in nutrients than food you can buy.

Studies over the past 15 or so years have documented a general decline in nutrients in our fruits and vegetables. Some people contend that our soils have been mined for their nutrients, worn out from poor farming, and therefore no longer able to provide us with nutritious food. The cure, according to these “experts,” is to sprinkle mineral-rich rock powders on the soil to replenish and rebalance that which has been lost. It all sounds very logical.

You might have sensed a big “but” looming. Here it is: But . . . further …

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TASTING AND TIDYING, OR NOT

Fruit Heaven

Hudson’s Golden Gem apple

I remember a few years ago of having a most fruitful — and I mean this very literally — experience visiting one of the USDA’s germplasm repositories. “Germplasm repository” doesn’t sound like the kind of place anyone would want to be, but these USDA repositories are, in fact, sunny, colorful places, often redolent with enticing aromas. In the case of the one I visited, the aroma was of ripening apples.

Germplasm is the stuff that gives rise to an organism, and the USDA has set up repositories around the country to house various kinds of plants. Each repository is situated where a particular group of plants grows well. So Davis, California is home to the repository for figs, pomegranates, and Asian persimmons; Corvallis, Oregon is the repository for pears, gooseberries, and mint; and Geneva, New York, where I visited, houses the collections of apples and …

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Colorful, Sometimes Tasty, Ground

Lurid Ground

Lurid, violet flowers have sprouted in the wood chip mulch beneath my row of dwarf pear trees. The flowers are autumn crocuses, the first part of the two-part flowery show that takes place each autumn in that piece of ground.

The second part of that flowery show, soon to follow, will be autumn crocuses. “But,” you exclaim, “autumn crocuses were the first part of the show!” Let me explain.

This first show is from a flower called autumn crocus but which is botanically a Colchicum species. It’s not really a crocus, not even related. Colchicum flowers resemble true crocus flowers, on steroids. The second show will be from true crocuses (that is, Crocus species) that happen to bloom in autumn. The Crocus autumn crocuses are dainty and in colors like our spring crocuses.

What’s really unique about the colchicum flowers, and what makes them so striking, is that, first, they emerge from …

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Interesting and Fun

Interesting, But I Could Do Without It

Out doing stuff in the garden, I sometimes wonder: What’s fun about gardening? What’s interesting about gardening?

European hornets are interesting. My first encounter with them — large, intimidating looking hornets with fat, yellow and black striped bodies, was a few years ago when I saw it feeding on kitchen trimmings as I was about to add more to the compost pile.  

The thought of a sting from this brute seemed horrendous; I learned, though, that they’re not particularly aggressive and their sting belies their ferocious look. The menacing-looking brute that entered the schoolyard turned out to be a pretty nice guy.

My next significant encounter with European hornets was this week, as I was gazing up into the branches of my plum tree admiring the ripe, red plums, ready for harvest. Reaching up and picking a fruit left me in hand with hardly more than …

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