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Posts Tagged ‘Val Webb’

Huge, healthy Broccoli and Cabbage, Mushroom Compost, Soil

Plants like these cabbages and broccoli really thrive when they have super soil!  Val Webb, gardening on the red bluffs above Mobile Bay, Alabama, says ‘…hoeing in a two-inch layer of clean, crumbly black mushroom compost. (I use mushroom compost because human sewage sludge — delicately referred to as “biosolids” in the federal regulations that allow it to be lumped in as compost and sold to unsuspecting gardeners — is frequently lurking in commercial bagged manure products [no date given]. Ewwww.)’  I agree wholeheartedly!  Use the best you have available, get prime results!

Plants vary in their soil needs.

Brassica Patches!  Since Brassicas are the backbone of your winter garden, and most of them are big plants, heavy feeders, they need good tasty soils!  It is true cooler weather slows uptake of cold soil Nitrogen, so be sure what you are offering is easy for your winter plant to take up!  That said, they LOVE recently manured ground.  Always use well composted manures.  Bagged manures are safe.  Bunny poop from your local shelter is safe.  Broccoli plants will grow in almost any soil but prefer a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimum growth. A pH within this range will discourage clubroot disease and maximize nutrient availability.  We like that.  Well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter (compost) are ideal for broccoli plants and especially early plantings of broccoli.  Sidedress (feed) about three to four weeks after transplanting when the plants have become established. Nitrogen is important for high-quality.

Winter Lettuces  Lettuces aren’t necessarily persnickety, they are just hungry!  They too LOVE recently manured ground!  Nitrogen!  They are producing nothing but leaves, and if we are harvesting the lower leaves regularly, they keep right on producing up to 10 weeks!  That’s a lot of work, so they need a lot of chow!  

Onions  You are hearing these words again!  LOVE recently manured ground.  Deep garden loam in full sun makes them quite happy.  Whether using transplants or seeds, prepare the ground ahead of time. Since onions like a well-drained, crumbly, fertile soil, raised beds work well. Work a two-inch layer of compost into the bed before planting in fall. At planting, apply a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 at 1/2 cup per 20-foot row. Although onions are heavy feeders, save most of your fertilizing until spring when the bulbs begin to form. Don’t go too rich too soon or the tops will do all the growing.  Generally tops grow in cool weather, the bulb in hot.

Peas – Legumes  Peas are another creature entirely!  They are a legume – gather Nitrogen from the air and deposit it in little nodules on their roots!  They feed themselves!  So generally they don’t need fertilizing or rich soils, but do watch them.  If they start losing their perk and leaves start paling, a tad of blood meal will help if that’s the issue.  At the same time, give them a feed of light fish/kelp liquid mix for them to take up a bit later.  Favas are legumes too, but they usually do quite well without feeding even though they become huge plants.

Chard  Chard is practically a miracle plant!  A prolific grower, tolerates poor soil, inattention, and withstands frost and mild freezes.  They are sensitive to soil acidity though. A low soil pH results in stunted growth.  Chard prefers a pH of 6.2 to 6.8 but will tolerate 6.0 to 7.5. Loose, well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter are ideal for chard. If you have heavy soil, amend it well with compost prior to planting. Break up large clods of soil and rake the area smooth prior to planting your chard seeds.  Though it grows over summer, it grows best  in our cooler times of year.

Strawberry Beds  Strawberries like loose, loamy, slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0-6.5) and full sun to achieve peak berry quality, but they will tolerate a variety of soil conditions as long as they have adequate drainage.  Soggy soil makes for fruit and roots that rot. If your garden tends to hold water, mix 6 inches of compost into the soil to create a raised bed.  Raised beds are desirable near moist coastal areas.  Dig in lots of manure and compost before transplanting strawberries right at the soil level since strawberries are short rooted.  But not chicken manure.  They do not like the salts in chicken manure.  No matter how much you water in summer, it’s hard to get rid of those salts.  Once your bed is made, mulch it with pine needles. That helps your soil have the pH strawberries like.

Soil is the foundation of the life of your garden.  Read, reread, that chapter on soil in Gaia’s Garden!

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I love Val Webb’s image and she and I both love COMPOST!  She says:  There’s an irresistible alchemy involved when you can start with garbage and end up with a wildly nutrient-rich substance that has been likened to Ghirardelli chocolate for earthworms.

Composting is EASY! Start Now!  Get your soil fat!  The sooner you plant, and plant in tasty soil, the sooner you get a great harvest!

There’s compost and vermicompost, hot and cold compost, compost in place, trenching, to name a few.  You have options!

Compost is decayed organic matter – poops – that’s manures, dry leaves and straw/alfalfa, wet grasses and kitchen wastes. Compost has a variable amount of Nitrogen in it depending on what has been composted and how the compost was made. Some studies show unturned compost has more Nitrogen than turned compost. Homemade compost can be up to 4 N, as is fish emulsion and chicken manure. Steer is 2, horse 1.7. If you need a quick boost for a yellowing N starved plant, go for bat guano, or easily assimilable blood meal, both at 10 N! Be careful with that bat guano, it’s hot and can burn your plants. And both are pricey. Get just the amount you need at Island Seed and Feed’s bulk bins.

Vermicompost is worm poop. Politely, worm castings. Simple as that. Red wriggler worms are easy to raise, will eat lots of things but do best with tender stuff, your green kitchen waste. They love cantaloupe and melon rinds, nesting in avocado shells, egg shells keep their pH neutral. Wrigglers are surface feeders not earthworms. If you put wrigglers in the soil, they die. Worm castings (vermicompost) have negligible N, about .05, are NOT A FERTILIZER, but do a lot of other good things for your plants. Highly recommended.

Hot compost has to be made carefully, have just the right mix, be tended like a baby, and defies many attempts to get it hot! If you don’t get the combo of your materials right, you are cold composting. The advantage of hot composting is it is fast, kills bad creatures and weed seeds. Also kills the good guys. But. Only in the parts of the pile that actually get that hot. The whole pile never gets that hot, like the outside of the pile. Even if you turn it so the outside goes inside, it’s hard to guarantee it will all get that hot, so be advised. It’s pretty cute to see all those little plants that spring up in the pile….

Cold compost is just throwing your done plants or trim, preferably not diseased or pest infested, into a pile or your compost enclosure, layering with some wet or dry material as needed. It might get hot, it likely won’t. It will decompose if you keep it moist. If not you have dead dry stuff, no nutrients.  Some studies have shown that cold compost is more nutritious than hot compost.  Makes sense since you aren’t burning off Nitrogen and other goodies including beneficial insects and microorganisms.  If your stuff doesn’t turn black and fluffy and smell good when it is decomposed to unrecognizable pieces, you don’t have compost. Perhaps you could use it as mulch?

Composting in place, sheet composting, Lasagna Gardening, is a time saver, no moving later. Chop and drop on the spot, add dry/wet materials as needed, amendments, red wrigglers, let nature do the work.  Especially add some chicken manure before you add your layers, because decomposition uses Nitrogen!  If you are starting on top of turf, using cardboard as your bottom layer, be sure to SATURATE the cardboard.  Don’t rush this part.  Really saturate it.  You want it to last long enough for the grass underneath it to die, to keep the grass from growing up through your pile; you also want your cardboard to decompose so your plants’ roots can grow through it when your pile sinks as the pile decomposes.

Trenching kitchen trim is traditional – cover it and forget it! Crushed eggshells, torn tea bags, coffee grounds. Six inches deep is all you need to do. Cover with the soil, water as usual, your stuff will disappear in about a week! Don’t put in meats or oils that attract digging predators, or grains or cereals that will attract mice. Leave out citruses and spicy foods.

Start Now! 10 Easy Steps to Make RICH COMPOST!

Make the most out of your finished plants or trim; use them for compost, organic fertilizer! A compost enclosure is a fine garden investment! Keep it humming! Dig your compost in around your plants, plant IN your new compost! Surface compost Nitrogen just off gases, so put a layer of soil over your compost to keep the Nitrogen right where you need it, in the soil feeding your plants.

1. Get or make your enclosure, a good working size for you, then layer, layer, layer! Half inch layers are ideal, but do what you can.  A pile 3′ by 3′ is your best minimum if you want a hot pile.  Enclosures can be free pallets on Craigs List tied together, plastic beehive types to keep the rats and mice out, the circular hard black rubber kind, to expensive rolling types, garbage cans with bottoms removed, holes made in their sides!  Do what works for you!
2. Dry stuff first so it will get wet from the stuff you put on top.  That’s ‘brown’ – dry ingredients such as dead leaves, wetted newspaper or cardboard, alfalfa/straw.  The formula is 2 dry, brown to 1 wet, ‘green.’
3. Layer up with your kitchen waste you saved, undiseased green waste from your garden or greens recycle bin. Avoid hard woody stems and seeding weed plants. Cut up large items, halve whole items like apples, potatoes. Tear teabags, crush eggshells.
4. Lay in a few yarrow leaves to speed decomposition. Grow yarrow by your composter for handy use.
5. Inoculate with a sprinkle of soil, living micro organisms, that multiply, munch and speed composting.
6. Sprinkle your layers with aged manure (keep a bucketful next to your composter) to enrich it.
7. Keep layering up to 3’ high or until you run out of materials.
8. Keep your composting materials moist, to keep them live and decomposing.  Don’t let them dry out – dry is dead, nothing happens, nutrients are lost, time and space wasted.
9. Cover with a large piece of *folded heavy mil black plastic to keep your compost moist, and dark so any worms that take up residence work up through the whole pile, to the top .
10. Keep adding to it, stir or turn often to oxygenate, weekly if you can.  Composting organisms need lots of air to operate.  Keep it moist but not drippy and drowning.  Some studies show compost is more Nitrogen rich if you DON’T turn it!  Hmm…read on.

If you are not able to do that much heavy turning or don’t want to take the time, simply, push a long stick into your compost, several times, in different places, to let oxygen in.  Or, if you are inclined, at intervals in your pile, as you build it, you can insert, horizontally or vertically, 2″ PVC pipes, that have had holes drilled in them every 6″ for aeration.  If you are going to insert horizontally, make your holes on one side only; put the holes side down to keep them from clogging.  Make sure both ends stick out so there is air flow through the pipes.  If you insert vertically, drill holes all around the pipe.  If you use a larger diameter, line it with wire mesh to keep it from filling with debris.  Once made, you can use your PVC over and over.  Other alternatives are to make wire mesh cylinders or tie a bundle of twigs together.

Your compost is finished when you no longer recognize the individual materials that went into it. If you are have a small compost batch, when ready, lay out your *folded plastic cover, pitchfork the still decomposing stuff on top of your pile onto your plastic.  Use that good stuff at the bottom where you want it. Or plant in the nutrient rich spot where your composter was!  Put your composter in a new spot, fork the stuff still decomposing back in, add new materials, recover, do it again!  The process slows down in winter, speeds up in summer, generally you have some compost in 6 to 8 weeks.

If you have time, throw a cup or so of compost in a bucket, fill with water, let sit overnight, voila, compost tea! Soak your seeds in it before planting!  Pour it round your plants or use your watering can to spray it on their leaves, both tops and bottoms – foliar feeding.  Your veggies will thrive!  If you have a lawn, make aeration holes with your spade fork and pour the tea down them.  You soil will start to live again!

Your soil and your plants thank you!

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