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Archive for the ‘compost’ Category

At our last Garden Committee meeting the topic of “SOIL” came up.  Although we all have a pretty good idea that as gardeners, we know what soil is…it ain’t necessarily so!  My aim here today is to acquaint us with the REAL meanings, definition and uses of various types of SOIL.  They are definitely not all the same!

For instance, do you know that “dirt” is the stuff under your fingernails; what’s on your dungaree knees; the debris carried into the house on your sneakers after being in the garden; what the dog brings in; and in general, what you need to vacuum up to keep the house clean?  That is NOT the stuff we plant our posies in!

What we plant in, is SOIL!  But, there really are different types of soil.  As gardeners we should be aware of what they are and how to differentiate between them, so we use them properly.

We could start by calling it a “planting medium”.  The reason for that is that there are so many soil types.  Here is a site from the University of Maryland Extension Service.  After a fair amount of searching I found this one which is pretty basic.  No super charts, or long chemical connections…just the simple facts.  I will go into more specifics about what is available to you here at Horizon House.

We essentially have 3 (three) different soil types available for your use.  Remember you should NOT need to add much soil at all.  All the garden beds have ample soil right now.  Occasionally, you might want to top dress, or dig in a bit of compost (as an amendment).  If for some reason you really do need to add soil, it should be in the “top soil” category.  So, here goes!

TOP SOIL   is what you will commonly find beneath your feet, in any garden environment!  Top soil varies in quality, depending on where it is found.  The top soil on a mountain top will  be very different from that on a river flood plain.  So, unless you know where it originates, you really won’t know at all whether it’s any good at all for your garden.  But, having said that, the Garden Soil we get is in a bag. We can rest assured that it is decent soil.  It is NOT special potting soil, that often has amendments added; nor is it mulch or compost.  It’s just plain soil…nothing more, nothing less.  Here is a link about soil basics  that you might find interesting.

MULCH  is what you put on top of the soil, around your plants.  It provides protection from drenching rain; it holds moisture which your plants can access easily; it provides shade for tender roots lying just beneath the surface; weeds cannot find their way into your well mulched garden; it provides warmth, protecting roots from deep freezes.  Over the year(s), if it is organic, it breaks down, adding texture and nutrients to the soil below.  This means that you can add, probably SHOULD add, new mulch every year, either in the spring or the fall.  Go to this link about MULCH which will add to your understanding of this product.  And by the way, do not worry about the mulch getting into the soil.  It will break down and become compost in the soil.  It will also provide instant bulk and moisture retaining qualities. (There is also non-organic mulch which will not break down, like plastic and rubber.  We do NOT utilize non-organic mulch in our gardens here at Horizon House.)

COMPOST is what I define as “Black Gold”!  compost-handIt is naturally broken down organic materials.  These are usually composed of leaves, grass, discarded garden plants (NOT diseased) and even non-fatty kitchen scraps(fat attracts “critters”). It sits and decomposes until it’s totally broken down.  A process that takes about a year.  Here is a link that will explain the process of making and using COMPOST.  For our gardens at Horizon House, we get bagged compost.  We should use this as an AMENDMENT to our garden soil.  It should NOT be 100% of the soil surrounding your plants!

Ragan suggests a ratio of about 4 parts garden soil to 1 part compost.  I’d say that’s even a bit high, but it’s a good guide.  The compost can be worked into the soil around your plant roots.  When you plant new materials, work some compost into the soil.

So there you have it.  I hope that helps.  I’ll try to get that little chart we talked about at the meeting posted somewhere in the E level storage area.

 

 

 

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Oh, my!  Why didn’t I know about this method of gardening about 40 years ago???

When our log cabin was built in New Hampshire, the builder cleared an entire meadow stacking the branches, logs, soil, grass, etc. in a huge pile at the back of a meadow.  I pretty much ignored it!  Sure, it grew wild flowers and plants.  Blackberries loved it, and so did the snakes, bees and other critters, but, since it was in a shady and out of the way place, I essentially ignored it.

Hugelkultur (or hugel) is a pile of logs, branches, wood chips, (etc.) covered with soil and planted!!!  It generates it’s own nutrients; stays moist; and because it is breaking down, it stays warmer generating a longer growing period.

Here is a link showing all the details of hugelkultur17 hugelkultur_bed I have included here a photograph taken from that page to show you how pretty they can actually be.  This one is small compared to what I might have had in New Hampshire!

It is such an obvious, good plan.  Where have I been???

I must admit, I did have a pile of chips (awaiting use as mulch) that I called my “nursery”.  I used that pile for inserting little trees, plants and shrubs I didn’t have time, or a location decided on yet.  It was wonderful.  The little plants grew so happily with little or no extra fuss.  They were warm and happy.  The pile was in the shade too.  I think that actually worked to the advantage of the newly planted orphans because they didn’t have to worry about sun scald, or the drying complications of too much sunshine.   That pile however, did not have any soil, which kept the plants from growing too rapidly.  It was kind of a “holding” technique.  I also have to say, that NH gets more inches of rain than our Pacific Northwest climate affords.  I think the plants might dry out here, using that technique.  From that standpoint, I’m sure the shade also helped.

I wish now that I’d included something about that huge pile, or the nursery, in my book…but I didn’t.  There’s lots more to read there however.  Aside from the calendar, there are tons of vignettes about my gardening adventures in New Hampshire.  🙂

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Mulch?  What is it?  Why should I DO it?  It sounds “labor intensive”…is it?  How will it help my garden?

Well, let’s look at all those issues:

What is MULCH?-1

  • Mulch is really any material you apply to the surface of the soil around your plants that
    • keeps weeds down
    • helps keep moisture in the soil, rather than allowing it to evaporate
    • provides nutrients (unless you use fabric or plastic) as it breaks down
    • Improves soil structure, if mixed in as you plant new materials
    • attracts earthworms
  • Why you should do it?  RE-READ the list above!-2
  • Labor intensive?
    • NO…once you’ve laid it down your garden is EASIER to care for and looks WONDERFUL!
  • How will it help the garden?  AGAIN, RE-READ the list above!

What’s not to like???-4

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