With grass cutting season upon us it’s a good time to start composting. If you’re like me and have reservoir of leaves that’s even better. Bringing the two together can result in mixture that produces a humus that is rich in nutrients and microbial organisms that will benefit your garden.
Compost was probably discovered when early settlers cleared land for cultivation, piling up brush and then realizing later that something was turning the plants and leaves into a rich humus. Today it’s become a science and we know very well how to build a perfect compost. What you should keep in mind is that there’s quite a bit of latitude in the process, and ways to compensate for a less than perfect pile. Continue reading →
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.
Plants require a root system that is equal in mass to the top growth, and vice versa. So without a good “understanding” your plants can never reach their potential and provide a harvest worthy of your efforts.
Here in the Ozarks we’re usually faced with a clay soils of marginal fertility that’s more appropriate to pines and oaks rather than corn and tomatoes. The standard recommendation for improving the soil is to add organic matter in the form of manure or compost. In truth this doesn’t actually improve the soil – which technically can only be comprised of sand, silt, and clay – but organic matter, or humus, does make the soil more friable and increases its ability to hold nutrients.