Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Dirt on Dirt...

I had a professor tell me once that gardening was 50% techincal, 50% artistic. I am hoping that these next few gardening post will help you with the techincal part of gardening. I have can't help much about the creativity, but I'll try! Please, if you have any question, send them to me! I'll do my best to answer each one!! Let me put all this Horticulture knowledge back to's getting lonely in my head!

When my family and I were in the commerical greenhouse business, the most important thing that my mother was really picky about was the soil (growing mix) we used.  Changing the type of growing mix we used was a 6 month decision!  When I was in college, in my greenhouse management class, we spent two months learning about the differences in commerical growing mix.  I say this to say that when you look at starting a garden, don't take forget about the one thing we all take for granted--the soil.

Remember--a little science here--soil is made up of organic (living) and inorgnaic (non-living) substances.  The inorganic substances are usually broken down by the organic substances.  The inorgnaic substances are the most important for your plants in that these are the substances that your plants are going to use to take in nutrients that they need to produce more and bigger flowers and fruit.  Without good inorganic and organic material, your garden will flounder and not produce like it should.

So how do you know if you have the organic and inorganic material in your garden soil?  Get a soil sample!  I cannot stress how important this is!  Our Cooperative Extension Service will take a soil sample, for a small fee, and do an analysis that will tell you exactly what you have and what you need to do to get the optimum preformance from your plants.  This will help you to get your garden off to a great start.

Remember that the most fertile part of your soil (in most of the US) is in the top 1 to 4 inches and it takes 100 years to produce 1 inch of top soil.  Composting is the best way to build up a great soil.   Using organic fertilizers, e.i. livestock manure (cow, chicken, and horse poop for you city girls), is better for your soil that commerical fertilizers.  But being the realest I am, I do realize that you may need to a combination of both.  Your soil sample will give you recommendations on fertilizer applications for your garden size.  

But if you are using manure (aka, poop), it doesn't come with fertilizer analysis, so how do you know what you are putting on your garden will not "burn" or kill your plants?  You can't!  Sorry!  So you have to be careful.  Try to not use "fresh" manure.  Use manure that has been sitting for a while.  The ammonia needs to be broken down into ammonia nitrate that the plant can use.  Also if the ammonia is broken down, you don't have as much smell.  If you can plow (mix in) in the manure as much as possible, you can reduce the "burn" effect on your plants.  Be careful not to have too much manure in one spot--get it spread out as much as possible.  This too will help in reducing burn.

The added benefit of using manure is that it acts like composting.  Manure that you get from horse or cow barns is never just poop!  It will be mixed with straw, hay, and feed.  All these are biodegradable and work to help build up your soil like composting does.  A draw back of manure is that it has feed in it.  Livestock is usually feed grain products.  Just like you and me, they don't digest everything they eat.  The seeds of the grains will sometimes make it into your garden and will become weeds in your garden.  That's where mulching comes in handy. (I'll talk about mulching later--stay tuned!)
As I said earlier, I am a realest.  Manure is great to build up the nutrient content of your garden soil, but by the end of the growing season you may need to give your garden a boost.  This is where a commerical fertilizer can help.  I totally suggest a liquid fertilizer that you can mix with your normal watering.  It will get in faster and most will make it directly into the plant by means of the roots and leaves.  You can use a gradulated fertilizer (e.i. Osmocote) but you have to remember that this type of fertilizer releases not only when it gets wet, but in high heat.  So in hot weather, this fertilizer will not last the three months they say it will.  (Stay tuned--I have a post coming on what formulation of fertilizer is best for what crops.)

If your weather has been anything like ours here in the South, it has rained enough to have Noah float the boat!  It's still too wet to plow in any type of manure or compost.  I wanted to get my garden started and ready to plant by Good Friday, but I can't even walk into the garden without marring up to my ankles in mud!  Maybe I will be able to get a garden started my May 1st---Let the Sunshine Shine on In!!  So don't get too anxious to get that garden ready.  If you plow too wet, when it dries out, the ground will be hard lumps of dirt that will inhibit air flow in the soil.

Share you ideas or those things that have worked for you here by posting a comment.  If you have questions about what I've posted, leave a comment and I'll get back to you too!!

Let's get Playing in the Dirt!!

P.S. The next day after I posted this, we got an awesome delivery--a truck load of chicken poop!  I cannot wait to get it plowed in the garden and start planting!  I'll keep you updated on the poops effectiveness...

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