Never Leave Soil Exposed to the Drying Sun and Wind. Soil Rule #2 learned today.
If there is an exception to every rule, what would be the exception to Soil Rule #2? Imagine a very humous-rich soil, in a moist environment sheltered from drying wind and scalding sun. Perhaps the jungle land of Hawaii or other rain forest paradise. An old friend on the Big Island tells me that everything grows extremely quickly there. Of course, the rich minerals which come straight from the Earth's magma stew pot would make anything grow.
So, except for that impossibly perfect environment, the rest of us may need to protect our soil.
In just a few supposedly Spring time weeks all the life and elasticity was sucked out of the soil in my garden (research the term soil integrity). I've heard the words "soil integrity" and I have an idea what it means. Take a look at this closeup of the clumps I've been working with. These show the dried up husks of what had been healthy soil.
At least I never said that I was a master gardener - or my integrity would be dried up too. You can see the holes which may have been worm holes, passageways which promote the life of the soil, allowing water and air to flow. The holes may have been formed from decayed roots. What so many beings worked hard to create there, I destroyed quickly, with an ill-fated blow of the shovel.
Back to the "fix" ...
As my husband delivered straw, I placed it on the chopped beds, and thought about this correction being implemented from a project gone bad. (See my last post Won't Break Soil Rule #1 Again.) I wondered if any of you readers had ever shoveled damp soil and immediately covered it in mulch - would the problem have healed itself? Would the soil have retained it's moisture and life (and worms)?
At the end of my last row of hoeing sandstone-hard clumps of soil, I noticed that indeed, there was an area there which had been covered by straw. It happened because of an impending freeze (see post from 4/6/09 Freeze Protection in Place). Big bunches of straw had been plopped near where they were needed for me to work with to protect the plants. Some of it landed on the hacked soil.
I moved the straw and behold, the soil was damp, a worm was showing. When touched by the hoe it softly responded with movement. Ah. So its true. Rule #2 was thereby proved valid.
For the lack of a little extra effort the day of the bed-making - three days in the future were shot by having to reclaim the soil, and STILL work when I was too tired, to spread the straw and protect the garden.
May you (and your plants) always be perfectly and purely hydrated.
What IS Soil Rule #1?
Never Ever Work the Soil When It is Wet or Damp or Clumping or Sticking to the Shovel.
How did I learn that this is an important rule? THE HARD WAY, of course.
We had help in the garden and wanted the paths to be re-defined, so we went ahead and shoveled some of the wonderful soil out from the walking path to make a bit of a raised mound for the beds. Alas, I didn't stop when I saw how the soil kept the shape of the shovel scoop.
I thought perhaps the rain which was coming would wash it into smaller pieces, or soften it. But no.
Through weeks of sitting out in rain and wind and sun (since 3/30), it stayed put, like this:
The shovel is standing in the walking path, soon to be dug. On the left is a path which has been lined with weed barrier cloth and wood mulch. This made so much more work for me, as it all has to be hoed and raked and then covered with straw, hopefully to regain some life and moisture and bring back the worms which no doubt fled to the terra firma beneath.
Today I did some more Triage on my work schedule (as in the 4/18 post). Sadly, I had to choose between continuing planting the potatoes (which NEEDS to be done) along with their companion plants, and the hard work of taming the soil in the rows. After several days of sun and wind, I knew the soil would be dry, even though caked hard.
There's a chance of rain tonight and tomorrow and then it would be too late to do this job. The soil work was important as it is almost time to plant the tomatoes, eggplants and peppers (and their companions) in these rows. Intensely physical exertion, and beneficial breaks all day today and I have but one row left to finish. Below, you can see on the left what the finished row looks like. Don't look at the soil on the right.
Now I have direct experience of the validity of this soil rule.
And I promise myself to follow it from now on.
Actually this year I am hoping to have the garden design somewhat set so I can keep straw mulch on it always and not need to dig it again. That is, after all, the definition of a "no till garden". Something to remember in the fall. No matter how tired from the season and the putting up of the harvest - clean, clear and re-mulch! I believe that also will be a rule.
Laziness or tiredness
May seem to rule the moment
Yet the extra effort of "following the rules"
Brings less work and more joy
To the gardener who is Wise.
(quote from "The Way of the Garden"
as yet unwritten by the author of this journal)
An Answer to a Gardening Question from a Reader
Hi Rachel, How are you and the garden these days? A question. I wondered if I used cardboard right over my lawn to make a new planting bed then added compost and dirt over that would it compost the lawn turf below or should I remove it or till it first? -H
The answer to this question lies in the timing in which you wish to transform the lawn into usable garden. Also the amount of effort that you wish to put into it is important.
In my post on breaking new ground, some of this method is mentioned. The description of laying down cardboard and covering it with straw is the first step. The straw at first has the job of holding down the cardboard. One must put enough on top to keep the winds from dislodging it. When I don't get enough on, I have to run around the field gathering up the cardboard, or sometimes paper. When we run out of cardboard we use sheets of newspaper. I've heart that the paper is enough to keep the weeds from growing up through. Of course, again the straw is useful as a weight.
Later on, as the cardboard breaks down, (and this takes quite a while), the straw becomes home to the worms and other beneficial soil critters who help break down the straw into humus, that is, soil.
March 19, 2009 The edge of the potato field as its built.
The boards are holding down the newspaper, waiting for the next layer of straw. It was a very windy day.
I have a new field laid out with paper and straw that I am going to be using this year, but not for the soil beneath it. I'm going to plant potatoes IN the straw. Their roots will likely go down through the straw and somewhat into the soil as they age. But right now, the job of that paper is to keep the weeds and grasses from growing. Hopefully as that green material spoils and rots, the bugs that make a living out of eating live roots will get all they can out of that plot and will move on somewhere else. Some sources say to leave a field for 2 years so that the lawn bugs will leave before you can use it without problem for a garden.
In the garden where we started with tilling, I spent all Summer dealing with the bugs that normally live in a pasture. Afterward I researched a bit and I found that those who know (can't remember the reference now, sorry) say that a plot of pasture or lawn needs to be repeatedly tilled, once or twice a week for several weeks until the plot would be ready to plant. Of course I didn't do that. On one day the site was gone over three times with the neighbor's tractor's tilling attachment.
March 17, 2008 The Plowing o' The Green
Tilling seems to be helpful to start a garden. However, all the plant matter that is cut up and remains on the surface has to be removed so it doesn't grow up again. Also many worms are killed and the soil becomes very disturbed. Keeping healthy soil is a science in itself and studying this usually leads to the development of a "no till" garden. This is what I am using now. Keeping a good mulch of straw over everything holds down the weeds, keeps in the moisture, gives good eating to the worms who increase the health of the soil in innumerable ways.
Another question is regarding the type of grass that will be covered up. Grass which is tame and only spreads by seed is much easier to deal with than grass which spreads by the roots (or are they called rhizomes?). If you have what is called Bermuda Grass, or Crab Grass it is much more difficult to get rid of. If you put cardboard down over it, the shoots seeking out will go to where the cardboard is not and will continue to spread. I've been told that the only way to get rid of that is to put black plastic over it, to remove the light and burn it with the heat that is trapped in the black.
Now your idea, Heather, is very interesting, to suppress the lawn and then cover it with soil for planting. Hmmm. I guess you'd want to put a frame around the edges to keep the soil in. You'd also want the cardboard to be thick enough for the roots not to break through it right away until the weeds died. That is, use cardboard from boxes rather than from shirts. (Do they still fold shirts around flimsy cardboard?).
There's a book on my shelf which I have not yet read, called Lasagna Gardening, which I believe has a recipe similar to what you are suggesting. Layers of paper, cardboard, compost form a bed in which to plant, feed and grow one's vegies.
All in all, I'd say that you have a good idea brewing. How about taking pictures and letting us know how it goes?
And the other question you asked "How is my garden going?" Tonight will be a freeze, with possible snow, so the plants that are eager to be planted have decided to shy away from the winter experience and are still taking up room in the greenhouse. The tomatoes would like bigger pots, however in their little cells they can all be under the lights, high up in the warmth. There doesn't seem to be enough room yet to repot them (a job that is high on the list), as the Bok Choy, Kale, Chinese Cabbage and Lettuce, refuse to leave the nice warm and protected greenhouse. As soon as I plant them outside I'll have to construct insect proof fabric tents for them too.
Look at this bug that I found IN the greenhouse!
On the other hand, it IS Spring, and there is joy and beauty here.
Much Joy to You, Dear Readers!
BLOTANICAL READERS MISSING TEXT, the pick setting NOT to see the original formatting also takes away all but the first line of some of the paragraphs. If you wish to read and see this post, you'll want to choose to put a check in the pick setting "SHOW POSTS AS ORIGINALLY FORMATTED."
The beneficial flowers is a wildflower mix that draws the beneficial insects that feed on the bugs that devour the vegetables. That's the theory, we'll see how well it works in the next couple of years. I bought the mix from Bountiful Gardens, a bioentensive gardening organization which teaches sustainable gardening practices around the world. I like them, they are always helpful, and they sold me the widger tool which I enjoy using.
The new home for the berries was inspired by a post I read on Blotanical, an online community of garden bloggers, where I learn a lot about gardening. I'm sorry I don't remember whose post it was, but the gentleman gardener showed his raised bed gardens with a large blackberry bed. He said that the runners were coming up all throughout the garden and that he had to dig them out. This brought some awareness to me of my less that thoughtful plan which had berries planted within the fence of my 75' X 60' (approx.) garden space.
Winter is over, the ground is dry, the beds are needed, the home planning commission (my husband & I) determined the locations, and the neighbors came over with a rototiller. A week and a half later the weather was right to take some time to do the next step, and our favorite helper arrived to participate.
Here's the flower bed project. On the left is the outside back of the garden fence. The bunch of straw there is from last year, laid over cardboard as grass and weed prevention. Next is cardboard laid over the grassy boundary to the tilled area (just a foot and a half wide). Then comes the pasture grass. It is miraculously wonderful soil for the Ozarks, for which we are very grateful.
On top of the cardboard should be more straw to hold it down. Our helper was working hard with the shovel to break up the grass clumps. Now comes my job, removing the chunks of grass and roots from the tilled area by hand. Down onto the stool to dig and sort, up again to move the stool. Throw the stones and rock and old tractor parts behind and pick them up after to move to the rock pile. Up and down, reach and throw. Then placing the newspapers covered with hay, in the breeze took a lot of team effort. I opened the papers, held them for him, then passed over a lump of straw while he held them down. Up and down, another load, back and forth, get more water to drink, its hot out here!
I see now in the photo that on top of the cardboard is the grass and dirt which was removed while clearing up the soil. Now that mess is going to have to be cleared that out again and replaced with straw to hold it down. Oh no.
By the time we got to that stage of the job, the weather had turned to Summer temps and sizzling sun. I guess wearing a shade hat instead of my thinking cap was a mistake. I didn't even notice that we'd missed a step. Just have to get that moved out before it rains again, or it will be a wonderful rooting medium for the grasses!
Below is the partially finished job, with newspaper and straw on the right being the new grass barrier. The newspaper showing between the two piles is going to be the planting area. I'll take the seedlings, poke a hole in the newspaper and lay them in the soil beneath. There are a few amendments in the already excellent soil. A little calcium lime, some organic manure compost mix, and a little Azomite, (an A through Z natural source of minerals and trace elements supplement mined from rocks somewhere in Utah. All this work gives those flowers a good chance of thriving.
Below is the tilled area for the cane fruit, the black, yellow and red raspberries and the blackberries. That's the worst part, before yesterday's labor.
Below, the plot has been processed with a cardboard barrier on the downhill side, a trench for the berries' roots, and the cleared out soil to place around the canes. On the cardboard (uh oh) is the grass and root debris.
The difference is that working on this part of the job, it was late afternoon and we were both tired from the up and down, and I thought ahead to how to finish up the day's work. I realized that the little bit of debris wouldn't hold up in a wind, to hold down the laboriously placed cardboard.
So we scooped up the dirt and grass mix and hauled it off to a concrete pad to dry up. Hauled more straw over to hold down the cardboard, and here it is. Ready to be finished up today.
In a few minutes the helper will arrive. We're going to do the potato patch today, which will be Part 2.
I've got to get busy now, watering the greenhouse before he gets here.
Best wishes for you to have a Joyful planting day too!
Who was the culprit who ...
Made holes in the greenhouse soil bed?
Made holes and trails in the greenhouse soil bed?
The spinach looked lovely on February 13. I could not figure out what was making these holes. I dug and wondered.
The post on Zaatar on February 14, came about through digging it up, in the hopes of finding the culprit in that process.
I'd been seeing a lot of crickets and cricket young in the greenhouse, moving into and out of the soil near the very thick foliage of the zaatar. I thought maybe the crickets were the problem and the zaatar was their hiding place. I did not find any cricket creche in the soil. But come to think of it, I did find and destroy a couple of grubs then. I didn't consider that they may be the source of the holes. Not being familiar with the growth rate of spinach, I didn't know if it was growing slower than it should have. Now, I believe that even in the winter light, it might have developed faster if its roots had not been eaten away. It is kind of like spending principle - it doesn't leave much for later meals. But I'm getting ahead of my story.
Below, on Feb 19, before harvesting, the spinach was as good as it got. I also had to trim it back to almost nothing as aphids spread to that bed.
After the spinach was trimmed back I knew things had gotten way out of hand with my mystery bugs. Spinach is near the top of the photo below. Some of the little ones survived and began to green again. However, many of them just disappeared, right through into the hole that they had been growing in. Then one dear one with new leaves on it seemed to be sinking deeper into the soil than it had been. Gingerly I reached to see if it would pull back up into place. Alas, the whole stem came up, nibbled away from any roots it might have had. That does it! Forget the all the other jobs that need to be done! 1. Put amendments on the new area opened up for bramble transplant. 2. Cover the new flower garden area with paper and straw so weeds don't take over. 3. Set up the new potato patch. 4. Process finished batch of compost. 5. Process finished batch of worm castings. 6. Start more seeds! 7. Tear and soak newspaper for new worm bedding. It's time to deal with this urgent problem NOW.
I removed the herbs that had been growing in that bed (zaatar and french tarragon) and potted them up. Also the remaining spinach and lettuce plants from half the bed were potted. The soil was combed through, all the worms were saved. I wondered if the destroyers could have been the red wigglers that were dropped into the bed. Did they run out of debris to eat and were they starting on the good plant roots? It seemed far fetched, but I kept exploring.
There had been an explosion of sow bugs on one of the shelves, but as far as I knew, they only ate rotted stuff. And I'd seen (and squished) only three or four as I moved all the soil, digging through the bed.
The answer appeared as a bug that has the same shape and size as the holes and tracks I'd seen. In fact, when I watched them march on the concrete floor after being removed from the soil home in which they were illegally squatting, their movement pattern did seem to match the form of the tracks. Ah ha. Gotcha!
And I kept getting them. About 25 large hungry grubs came out of half of the four foot by seven foot bed with 10" of soil. Tomorrow I have to get into the other half, pot up the two chard and many lettuces that are doing well there (so far) and clear out the grubs that have been making holes in that part of the bed too.
How did they get in there? Why didn't they show up earlier? Can I keep them from "reseeding"? The soil has been there for almost a year. I didn't see them as the soil went in. These are questions that you the reader may be able to answer. Or more research in the grub life cycle may answer them.
As the other beds get harvested out, I will have to comb through them as well.
This discovery leaves me feeling a tad more grateful to the armadillos and skunks that paw through my yard eating grubs.
Below is one of the grubs on the concrete floor before his execution. So much of gardening, here in the buggy Ozarks, seems to be about killing, it is spiritually painful that my gardener's instinct and what seems to be necessary is killing.
Oh, just squash it.
We began to build this greenhouse, after studying what the “right” way was, just the best way that we could. We had a Southern exposure, a space and we had materials. So, all was put together to offer a “well lighted place” to nurture plants, and to be nurtured in their presence (and flavor!) Oh, savor the flavor.
We added two large beds, surrounded by cedar wood. The garden’s wonderful soil, amended by what seemed right went in. Two really deep beds, about 2 feet high, connect to the soil, ground, strata of gravel, whatever you’d call it. Those beds were also amended and left on their own, looked like the right side of this photo.
I had small delicate strands of onion, leek and chive seedlings to put in, and imagined they would be mangled and destroyed by the rubble. So I utilized some tools which were ordered from Bountiful Gardens (www.bountifulgardens.org). They are kind resourceful helpful folks there, who spread the gospel of growing good healthy food around the world. The soil sifter resting in the white pan below comes through them. It helped me smooth out the top inch or so of the bed until it looked like the left side of the photo.
So smooth, so soft, a well made bed.
Below is what I used to sift the soil. The two buckets on the top received the detritus, stones and rough stuff on the left.
Donations for the compost on the right.
The plastic spade pressured the soil through the seive, into the pan.
Then the kinder gentler soil was replaced on top of the bed, and smoothed out.
Above, the sieve is used to prepare the worm castings. A small colony of worms worked for over a year. The ones that survived my learning curve of how to care for them, created a couple of bags of nutritive castings soft enough for the tender seedlings. I knew that the onionettes would need the food value of the castings, so I made tiny channels in the bed, filled with castings and laid them in.
There were about 200 seedlings.
We like to cook with onions. How many onions do we use in a week? (4) In a year? (4 X 52). Which varieties will store well? How many of each kind? Perhaps a sweet onion that doesn’t store will be able to grow in the greenouse over next winter.
So how many to plant now? We have leeks, chives, long keeping browns, short keeping sweet reds, and vidalia style sweet onions. We’ll see what happens.
Some of the onion seedlings were really too small to transplant, but the job took two days as it was. I really didn’t want to put off finishing it. Two days of bending over the bed, arduously putting the tiny things in and gently covering them.
I used a wonderful tool, also from Bountiful Gardens (www.bountifulgardens.org). It is just a slender curved piece of stainless steel, it is perfect for working in small dimensions with delicate roots and fragile stems. I couldn’t figure out what it was in the catalog, but trusted them when they said it was useful. Indeed. I’ll put a photo of it in tomorrow.
The seedlings that didn’t have enough leaf/stem to stick out of the soil were placed under the soil. I’ve been waiting to see them push through. Seems that a few new onion stems have come through, but I’m still waiting on more.
What I really like about the onion bed - it is so simple to differentiate the weeds from the onion family. If it has any bit of a circular leaf, out it goes. If it has the tip of a grass stem (like a lance or arrowhead point), out it goes. Only the smooth cylindrical shaft, without ornamentation remains in this bed.
Planting the seedlings was harder than putting in onion sets. The little ones are so tender.
These plants will go in the garden when the soil and temperatures are right, and when they are pencil thick and ready to transplant. Seems like it will take years for that to happen. They are growing quite slowly. I’m told that’s normal for onions.
The photo above was taken on 1/22/09 just after they were transplanted.
Below, was photographed on 2/12/09. You might see multiple and slightly thicker leaves .
Also, notice how easy it is to tell which little green growths are weeds!
I love making my fingers into tweezers and excising the little weeds,
pulling straight up so their roots slide out without disturbing the onions.