on the right path

Kind of hard to believe, but it’s already time to start thinking about next year’s garden, at least for me. The main reason for that is a complete reorganization of my bed locations.

The plan is to make beds that are uniformly 3′ wide. Until now, I’ve been winging it from year to year with beds of different width, depending on what I was planting.

The idea worked ok, but I think that uniform bed width will be beneficial in a couple of ways; cloches and bed protectors will fit on any crop, anywhere in the garden, and the paths and beds will be permanent. No more walking on next year’s beds, compacting the soil.

I temporarily marked the future beds with small stakes, so I can tell where to plant cover crops and where to plan for paths.

next year's beds marked out

next year’s beds marked out

The first major cleanup commenced. I decided we had enough broccoli in the freezer, so even though the plants were still bearing site shoots, I pulled them and let the chickens have at it. I’ll be sowing buckwheat in the empty space, to be cut down as green manure in a month or so, and then followed by a winter cover crop mix.

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broccoli on its way to the chickens

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back to the soil

When I think back to the amount of shredded leaves I collected last fall, my mind boggles at how little evidence is left.

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I stored shredded leaves in 12 of my 2 1/2′ diameter tomato cages (about 3′ high in each), filled a 3’x3′ compost bin, another 4’x4′ bin, and layered shredded leaves in sections of the garden.  Logic aside, they’ve pretty much returned to the soil except in a few places where I refreshed them with stored leaves in the spring.

The theory that you really can’t collect too many leaves still holds.

The buckwheat that I planted a couple of days ago as green manure is popping through.  Replacing the organic matter and nutrients taken out of the garden isn’t a one-time deal.  Those veggies above and below ground create massive quantities of leaf material, and it all needs to be replaced.

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the wet soil aftermath

The soggy June that just went past is rearing its ugly head.  I’ve pretty much written off one of my grapevines that sits in the very epicenter of a low corner in the garden.  Bad planning, I suppose, to include an area that I knew would suffer in very wet years…

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Luckily, this type of wet happens very rarely.  The grapevine next door to it is doing well.  And in reality, I probably only want one vine growing in the amount of space available on the trellis.

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I had high hopes for the pepper plants too.  They were planted in the area where last year’s compost bins sat.  Unfortunately, this was that same wet corner of the garden.  The peppers are dropping leaves and have me a little worried.

IMG_4980 IMG_4979And the pickling cucumbers are still reeling from the wet, also sitting in the low corner of the garden.

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There will be disappointments every year; I accepted that long ago.  It’s still hard to take.  Happily for me, the rest of the garden is something I’m proud of, plenty of produce to freeze and can for the winter.

biology, not chemistry

If you’re not too busy in the garden, this article is well worth a read…

Gardening Is Biology not Chemistry

The article’s a little complex to distill in a few sentences, but it makes wonderful sense to me.  Considering the garden soil biologically rather than chemically reminds me that life in the garden soil is just as important as life above it.  There are chemical compounds involved, but that’s just a one dimension of a many-dimensional, living organism.

This time of year things get really satisfying. The hardware jungle begins to cover in green, and the freezer starts to fill.  The above-ground portion of my living organism makes me happy that I pay so much attention to the other, less visible part.

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the organism in mid-July

tomato holes and water lines

After 51 days, our water lines have defrosted.  A testament to the brutality of this past Michigan February.

But now, the thumb-twiddling, mid-40s, dreary Spring. It make a person antsy. It make a person look for things to do. We’ll start by filling up the space under the grow lights…

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And instead of thumb-twiddling, I decided to do what could be done. Starting with aspirin. Last year was the first year I tried spraying the tomato plants with an aspirin-in-water solution. Whether it helped or not I’m not certain, but I do know I had far fewer tomato disease problems than ever. So why not?

Aspirin sprayed on tomato plant leaves is supposed to poke their immune systems, I guess sort of like smallpox vaccines do for humans. The dosage I use is four 83 mg tablets per gallon of water (or in this case, one tablet in a quart). I started spraying a little later on last year, but I wanted to try it on my seedlings. I shouldn’t pretend to recommend this; I’m not a doctor. But I think it’s safe and it worked for me. I crunched the pill with a pestle and dissolved it in a little warm water.

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(It needs to sit a little bit. This isn’t fully dissolved.)

After getting rid of tomato headaches, I unburdened myself of the stash of pulverized, dried banana peels that I’ve been hoarding all winter, saving back some for the tomato holes.

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And since I was outside, I decided to get my two early tomato holes cooking. First, a deep dig to loosen things up.

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peat moss to mix in with the soil from the hole

Supplies gathered:

  • about a tablespoon of banana peels for potassium per hole (sort of a guess) because my soil test recommended more potassium
  • a tablespoon or two of Epsom salts (also tried last year) to help absorb the excess phosphorus in my soil. It also contains sulfur, which was something that my Extension agent said would help lower the soil pH
  • a couple of cups of worm castings
  • a shovel full of compost
  • about a cup of used coffee grounds (just wanted to…bad reason)
  • and a shovel full of peat mixed into the soil that I removed from the hole. I’ve not read anything about peat in tomato holes, but it worked well for me last year. Our soil is alkaline, peat is acidic. Our soil is sandy, peat soaks up moisture.

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It seems reasonable to me to get these potions into the planting hole early so they can start doing their things for a bit before the plants go in.

I don’t know. It’s sort of scientific, but also kind of voodoo. Science is too exact for my pea brain, so I usually end up just swinging. Something to do when there’s nothing else to do.

eggshells revisited

The eggshells that I collected over the winter and pulverized have just been sitting in a plastic container. After checking my soil test and noticing the calcium levels in my soil were slightly above what’s needed, I was hesitant to put them into the garden.

The next choice was the chickens. But the shells are almost a powder, and that wouldn’t work free-choice. And I wouldn’t have a clue as to how much could safely be mixed with their feed.

So I did a little more digging (so to speak), and found some stuff about cole crops benefitting from a small dose of ground eggshells. They’re a slow-release type of amendment, so I decided to give it a shot in my cauliflower and broccoli beds. Just a conservative dusting.

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I could be wrong. We’ll see.

In the future, I won’t grind them to dust, just small enough that they can be offered to the chickens free-choice.

And the peeps are living it up, sprouting their wing feathers.

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the tomato holes in my mind

With a couple of tomato seedlings poking their tops through the potting mix, it’s time to start the annual too-early obsession with what to add to their planting holes.

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There’s just one item that I don’t even consider leaving out; worm castings. They’re good for everything and harm nothing.

The soil test results from last year indicated that I should add 1 lb. of potassium per 1000 sq. ft. of garden. Got it covered. Pulverized, dried banana peels. That little chore that I made sure to do every winter day, drying our banana peels over the register, has yielded very close to the right amount of potassium needed for the garden. And since different plants have different needs, I’ll make sure to add them where they’ll feel wanted.

Pulverized dried eggshells?

This is disappointing for me. I’ve looked forward to putting some of the powdered eggshells that I saved all winter to my tomato holes to add calcium, which prevents blossom end rot. But in comparing the soil test results to optimal levels of calcium (very good explanation in that link)…my soil was fine. I know. A self-defeating way to look at the world. But I did all that work! I’ll have to find a better use for them. Uh…chickens!

Bone meal? Well, here’s where some science comes in. The soil report said that no phosphorus was needed. In fact, there’s excess phosphorus in my soil. I’d always heard that bone meal helped tomato plants, but never looked up the elemental composition. In looking, I found this:

Bone meal is primarily calcium and phosphorus, two elements which are usually adequate in non- agricultural soils…Both calcium and phosphorus are required for plant growth, but both (and especially phosphorus) can cause problems if they occur in high concentrations.

Interesting. And I won’t be adding bone meal to my garden this year. But I will be adding Epsom Salts, because they tie up excess phosphorus.

What can you do if you have added too much phosphorus over the years? If your soil test indicates that phosphorus levels are high, you may be able to tie up excess phosphorus by adding a mixture of other mineral fertilizers. I’ve not had to do this myself, but various web sites recommend concoctions of ammonium sulfate, magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts), iron sulfate and zinc sulfate.

Coffee grounds, in moderation, worked in early so they’re not robbing the plants of nitrogen as they decompose.

And then as the tomato plants grow, a weekly foliar feed of aerated worm tea, fish emulsion just as the fruits form, and a monthly foliar spray of dissolved aspirin to help ward off disease. It’s a thing. Really.

Edit:

My friend Julie reminded me thatI forgot composted manure.  That’ll definitely be happening.