Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dishing On Dirt

Exactly what is right and wrong for garden soil (soil not dirt is the correct word according to the “horticulture crowd”)? You may get as many different answers as there are questions and many are from experts.

Granted, I take a casual attitude and tend to use as few chemicals as will suffice. I understand that location, soil composition and gardener involvement make a difference.

My casual attitude indicates I love fresh produce straight from my garden but do not in any way enjoy the tasks involved in vegetable gardening. Call it lazy or call it selective – I’ve come to accept this about myself. I realized I needed the simplest way to garden and still get abundant healthy produce.

For those who love-LOVE-L O V E the processing of gardening – let this article go without reading. For those of you who are process averting – come along with me today.

Seldom does town or county acreages have perfect soil. My garden area is former fields which were compacted, nutrient depleted, rocky and drained poorly. A town garden may be backfill.

Over the years my main garden soil enhancement has been manure. Dried (or aged) manure tilled into the garden will improve nutrients, aid de compaction, and enhance drainage. It is the single best additive I have ever used.

I also recycle/compost various non animal products such as coffee grounds & filters, fruit & vegetable scraps, newspaper & other biodegradable papers.

During this process, we have raised the soil level to enhance drainage. Raised beds are again gaining in popularity and I recommend this if you are starting from scratch. Besides the benefits for the soil, it enables gardening without bending over. There are directions for these if you are interested.

We do not till the garden except on the years when we add manure. There are several reasons: doesn’t disturb the beneficial insect activity, doesn’t eliminate the mulch already in place, doesn’t compact and takes less labor.

For the most part, I use newspaper as my garden mulch. It isn’t pretty but it recycles, it decomposes and it works. I use shredded paper, torn paper or flat newsprint in layers. Paper will absorb and hold moisture and help keep weeds from germinating. It allows plant specific watering without splashing mud on the plant or wasting water on bare ground. Paper can’t be applied on windy days, should be wet down immediately and may need some clods of soil to initially hold it in place.

If you plant seeds, apply paper between the rows and once the plants are thinned and larger, apply around the stems.

I’ve found paper mulch inhibits harmful insects better than most insecticides and keeps produce off the ground to prevent rotting. A negative of any mulch is it prevents beneficial earth dwelling bees and wasps from having access to expanses of nutrient rich soil.

Read my blog for other hints for reducing garden work. And to all the gardeners who love the process – I admire and enjoy your perfectly manicured spaces. To all the farmers starting the spring planting season – be safe and thanks again for feeding the world.

“Right letting alone and right meddling are the beginning and the ending of good gardening . . .”
E. A. Bowles in “My Garden in Spring”, 1914.

This is the start of paper mulching around my tomato plants.  This was a no-till year and grass is beginning to take hold - always a factor when using manure.  It will be smothered when it lays under a thick mulch all summer.
"New BFF" - blog article #135 - has more on Manure for gardens.   

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