Last year I tried a new variety of tomato, the Park’s Whopper. They’re a slicing tomato and the vines are too vigorous for staking so this year I plan to let them grow free on a bed of mulch and straw. I’m a real believer in leaf mulch, and I’m seeing the results in the worm population which continues to increase.
Click for a larger image
Worms don’t actually eat the leaf material until it breaks down into minute particles, but they love the fungus that grows on leaves, and as they move through the mulch they help break it down. One concern is that leaves are very acidic so if you want to avoid a calcium deficiency and the inevitable blossom end rot in your tomatoes and other fruiting vegetables you need to incorporate some lime around the plant and then dust the mulch as I’ve done in the photo to the right. While the soil acts as a buffer, and it’s hard to apply too much, I only add a handful to the soil around the plant and another handful to the mulch. If you like to measure, about 1/2 to 3/4s of a cup should be enough.
Last year I began recycling metal coffee can containers and the results have been promising. Both the scallions and carrots grew well, and weed free because they were planted in a potting mix, also known as a soilless medium.This worked out so well that I’ve decided to expand into a new area – half gallon plastic milk containers.
For root vegetables there are two advantages. In addition to eliminating weeds around the plants, harvesting the plants could not be easier. Just lift up the container, tap the sides and the potting mix falls out.
If you look closely you’ll see that tangled in the roots is bits of wood. Though I tried both of the leading name brand potting mixes I found that the mix is largely shredded wood. This stuff makes for a messy harvest. So this year I plan to revert to peat moss and sand. The peat typically comes in 2.2 cubic foot bales. I’ll cut the bale in half and mix in a bag of playground sand. That’s about enough to fill my wheelbarrow with some space to work. Continue reading →
“Growing your own food is like printing your own money”
At TED2013 Ron Finley presented his quest to make urban gardening a reality. His talk mixes logic and humor into a plea for humanity.
His begins with a citation ordering him to remove a garden he planted on strip on land he was required to maintain but belonged to the city. Officially known as a parkway the strip measured 10 by 150 feet and Ron turned it into a “food forest.” But someone complained and he was cited, then served with a warrant.
Ron won that battle and went on to form LA Green Grounds. I encourage everyone to not only watch the video below, but share it with your friends.
While a soil test involves many important nutrients, the pH level is critical in optimizing the microbial activity in the root zone. This is especially important for organic gardeners because a proper pH will allow critical nutrients to be released as the plants mature.
Nutrient availability for soil pH levels University of Missouri Extension Service
As you can see in the chart, there’s a fall off of phosphorus availability as pH declines (or becomes more acidic – moving to the left on the chart). Root growth is dependent on adequate levels of phosphorus. We can also see how acidity affects other critical metals such as calcium and magnesium when pH drops below neutral (pH 7). These are among the macronutrients frequently cited as deficient in soil tests.
But altering pH can be difficult. Clay soils generally have a high degree of buffer capacity, meaning that the soil is resistant to change. Adding organic matter to the soil also increases both the buffer capacity and the acidity of the soil. While plants do well in soils ranging from a pH of 6 to 6.5, peak microbial activity occurs when the pH is between 6.3 and 6.8.
So why is this important? Continue reading →
Of all the critters that can be found in a garden I’m always glad to see a worm. The most obvious benefit comes from their constant tilling of the soil providing aeration and improving the percolation of water throughout the root zone. But having been trained in the scientific method at the University of Arizona I’m also glad to find data that supports my beliefs.
Last fall I received an email from plant pathologist at Cornell University. Ms Allison Jack, a PhD candidate, forwarded studies on the use of vermicompost, also known as worm castings, in disease control and plant growth. While scientific papers can be tedious for the layperson, if you’re interested I’ll gladly forward these studies to you. Just send a request to OzarkAggie@gmail.com and I’ll reply with the articles attached.
Fortunately Allison has published an award-winning video that provides an overview of vermicomposting, and how worm castings provide both a nutritional benefit and disease protection for plants. It’s definitely worth a watch.
Raking leaves isn’t my favorite activity, and with mature trees on 3 sides of my house I have plenty without the neighbors leaves blowing into my yard. But just like the guy with too many lemons I take advantage of the situation. My good luck stems from the fact that I have wide drain that runs along the road that backs up when it rains and forms a shallow pond. And that’s where I rake my leaves.
I let nature take its course and my lawn mower does the rest. It begins when the leaves saturate with water and fungi and bacteria begin to colonize the cellulose in the leaves. Cellulose forms as a result of photosynthesis generating glucose which is then polymerized. In its most basic form two glucose molecules are bound together and form structural cellulose.
Fungi and some bacteria possess the ability to break the bonds and derive glucose and other micronutrients from the leaves. Slowly the leaf breaks down. Worms help that process by feeding on the fungi and wiggling around as worms will do. Of course raking the leaves into a pile and mulching them with a lawn mower speeds things up considerably.
In the early stage the leaves are simply wet and matted and therefore a welcome environment for the fungi and bacteria. Second from the left are the leaves I ground up with mower last summer, the next pile was ground up last spring, and the pile on the far right was dug out the year before and is ready to be incorporated into the soil.