It's Our Garden

Compost To Improve Your Garden

When gardeners speak of a soil, they are referring to earth that looks, feels and smells pleasant. That means fertilie soil, with good structure depending on the extent to which the inorganic soil particles; sand, silt, clay, and humus are bound together. Nomatter what kind of miserable soil you begin with, it can be transformed into the stuff great gardens are made of. Composting will start the process. Compost is Nature recycled. It is the garden itself, in part, returning benefits in the form of humus asplants and other organic components decomose through microbial action. A compost pile, in fact, is teeming with microbial lifeas the beneficial bacteria, fungi and protozoa go to work in their natural cauldron. This process can take place slowly or in amatter of a few weeks, depending on the materials used, their relative sizes and quantities and how they are mixed together.

Compost is multi-facted but not intended as a fertilizer. It offers only a relatively low proportion of nutrients, yet what it does isclose to magical. In its finished form as a mulch, it reduces evaporation, reduces or prevents weed growth, and insulates the soil from extreme temperature changes. A mulch also keeps the upper inches of the soil cooler in daytime, warmer at night. YetCompost has humble beginnings. Common, easily accessible materials destined to decay together in a pile will give your soil thegift of minerals and and other components it needs. The materials are indeed numerous; lawn clippings, barnyard manure andkitchen garbage are among them. Regardless of the particular ingredients, making compost is akin to making bread or beer;soil-digesting bacteria like yeasts need warmth, moisture, air and something to feed on to keep them alive and growing. Almost all of the practical problems associated with making compost stem from too much or too little of those basic factors.

The traditional method, referred to as fast or hot composting, produces a lot of compost in just a few weeks. Heat is the keyelement: a well-constructed compost pile can reach temperatures 160' to 170'. It also requires the proper carbon-to-nitrogenratio of 30-to-I and periodic turning every 2 to 3 days over a span of 2 to 4 weeks. There is also a slow (cold or passive) composting process which is simpler but takes longer. It won't challenge your knowledge of basic chemistry, or pose a threatto your worms, relying more on time than heat. If you need only moderate amounts of compost, slow composting is ideal. Itinvolves minimal work, recycles kitchen and small garden wastes, and reduces the volume of outgoing trash.

Whatever the tempo, air is vital to any composting process. Without air (anaerobic) composting is possible but unpleasant withthe putrescent of rotting material assaulting your nose. It is usually because there is too much nitrogen and too little air in themixture. If you have an abundance of trees on your property, autumn leaves can be plentiful and messy, but they are there foryour use and can be easily gathered and stored in leaf bags.

In any case, you need not worry, as some people have, that the acidity of the leaves will sour the soil. Although leaves are acidic, they do not add enough acidity to significantly affect the soil. In particular, some gardeners question the use of oakleaves in compost because of their acidity, but they can definitely be used. The acidity they possess is more beneficial than not,especially for acid-loving plants. This is also true for needles and wood chips from coniferous trees, which are acidic. Tying upsoil nitrogen is a greater than acidifying the soil. About 100 pounds of leaves can be added to a garden of 1,000 square feet,with the soil having an organic content of about 2 to 3%, without locking up too much nitrogen.

Timing is crucial. Your pile is fully composted when it fails to heat up after being turned. Then it is ready to use. And use it witha good feeling, for it is your garden's natural fuel.

Remember your objective, the foundation of every successful garden, is to achieve healthy soil.


Why Do Organic Grower's Disapprove of Chemical Fertilizers?

Chemical fertilizers are quick-acting, short-term plant boosters and are responsible for: (1)deterioration of soil friability, creating hardpans soil, (2) destruction of beneficial soillife, including earthworms, (3) altering vitamin and protein content of certain crops, (4) makingcertain crops more vulnerable to diseases, and (5) preventing plants from absorbing some needed minerals.

The soil must be regarded as a living organism. An acid fertilizer, because of its acids,dissolves the cementing material, made up of the dead bodies of soil organisms, which holds the rock particles together in the form of soil crumbs. This compact surface layer of rock particles encourages rain water to run off rather than enter the soil.

For example: A highly soluble fertilizer, such as 5-10-5, goes into solution in the soil waterrapidly so that much of it may be leached away (into our ground water) without benefiting the plants at all. This chemical causes the soil to assume a cement-like hardness. When present inlarge concentrations, recolate into the subsoil where they interact with the clay to form impervious layers of precipitates called hardpan.

Many artificial chemical fertilizers contain acids, as sulfuric and hydrochloric, which will increase the acidity of the soil. Changes in the soilacidity (pH) are accompanied by the changes in the kinds of organisms which can live in the soil. For this reason, the artificial fertilizer people tell their customers to increase the organic matter content of their soil,off setting the deleterious effects of these acids; also to use lime.

There are several ways by which artificial fertilizers reduce aeration of soils. Earthworms,whose numerous borings made the soil more porous, are killed.The acid fertilizers will alsodestroy the cementing material which bins rock particles together in crumbs. Chemical fertilizers rob plants of some natural immunity by killing off the micro organisms in the soil. Many plant diseases have already been considerably checked when antibiotic producing bacteria orfungi thrived around the roots. When plants are supplied with much nitrogen (N) and only amedium amount of phosphate, plants will most easily contract mosaic infections. Hostresistance is obtained if there is a small amount of nitrogen(N) and a large supply ofphosphate. Fungus and bacterial diseases have been related to high nitrogen fertilization,and lack of trace elements.

Plants grown with artificial chemical fertilizers tend to have less nutrient value than organically grown plants. For example,several tests have found that by supplying citrus fruits with a large amount of soluble nitrogenwill lower the vitamin C content of oranges. It has also been found, that these fertilizers that provide soluble nitrogen will lower the capacity of corn to produce a high protein content.

Probably the most regularly observed deficiency in plants doped continually with chemicalfertilizers are deficiencies in trace minerals. To explain this principle will mean delving intoa little physics and chemistry, but you will then easily see the unbalanced nutrition created inchemical fertilized plants. Note: The colloidal humus particles are the convoys that transfer most of the minerals from the soil solution to the root hairs. Each humus particle is negativelycharged and will, attract the positive elements, such as potassium(K), sodium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, aluminum, boron, iron, copper andother metals. When sodium nitrate is dumped into the soil year after year, in large doses, a radical change takes place on the humusarticles.

The very numerous sodium ions (atomic particles) will eventually crowd out the other ions,making them practically unavailable for plant use. The humus becomes coated with sodium,glutting the root hairs with the excess. Finally, the plant is unable to pick up the minerals that it really needs.

So, with chemical fertilizers, in short, you have short-time results,and long-term damage tothe soil, ground water and to our health.


A Solar/Composting Greenhouse

On Long Island, because of the type of growing season, you can grow fresh vegetable cold-weather crops all-winter long. Asolar greenhouse can prolong the harvesting of green leafy vegetables for months to come. Now is the time for getting the solargreenhouse ready for the cool-season greens. Almost all the leafy types of vegetables can be grown in raised beds with seeding directly into the beds. Several varieties of lettuce, including loose-leaf types and non-heading varieties which mature in 40 to50-days, do well with this method of planting.

By planting in intervals of 10 to 12-days, you can pick fresh lettuce all winter as we do. If planting space is limited, seeds canbe started in flats and transplanted to the growing beds as soon as one crop is harvested.

When scheduling planting dates, remember that maturing dates increase as days grow shorter. This is one of the reasons for growing greens rather than root vegetables. With a solar greenhouse, it takes almost 5-months for root crops to attain sufficientsize for harvesting, but greens are ready in less than half that time. Root crops do well in garden beds. The deep beds provid eheavy, strong growth from all plants. At least 15-inches of fertile soil are needed for growing greens indoors; An extra amount of composted manure, or leaf/mold will furnish the extra nitrogen (N) that leafy vegetables prefer. This can be added to good garden loom which has been tested and has all the needed nutrients for good healthy growth.

Examine plants carefully for insects before placing them in the greenhouse. Any showing signs of insect damage should bediscarded immediately. If you are an old hand at growing vegetables in a solar green-house, you probably have everything inreadiness for September or October planting. Our greenhouse was built for the express purpose of growing a large variety ofvegetables throughout the winter until they can be gathered from vegetable gardens in the spring.

Beginning in August, the beds are then covered heavily with compost and leaf mold, bone meal, greens and, fish meal and kelpmeal. By the end of August, the beds are tilled and seeded for the long-growing root crops and onions. Some of the cold-weather crops such askohlrabis; various kinds of lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, etc., are seeded in the garden and later transplanted to the greenhouse beds around September 15th. Meantime, flats are seeded for continuous replacement so that there is a constant supply ofvegetables all winter.

A solar greenhouse such as this has a compost-digester heating system at one end. Night temperatures should be maintainedaround 45'F with a slow rise of 15 to 25'F during the day when weather is clear and bright. If a higher temperature ismaintained, too much forcing is induced and a poor-grade product is a result. An advantage of solid beds is that they requireless watering once the crop is established. When watering, remember that a thorough soaking when the plants begins to head helps feed the plant and keeps it growing well. It is difficult to set definite rules for watering, as much depends on the type ofplants, the atmosphere and type of soil.


Winter Gardening With A Solar Greenhouse

Just how much value does a solar greenhouse deliver to an average family? There's no question about a backyard solar greenhouse being an exciting, practical advantage to organic gardeners. If it's put to work producing tasty and healthful cropsthroughout the winter, the rewards will shoot up like eager seedlings.

One simple and low-cost way to become the owner of a small solar greenhouse is by constructing one yourself. A solargreenhouse can be constructed and covered with 8-mil-polyethylene plastic. As for heat, we use 55-gallon drums as solar collectors, with a compost/digestor as the main heat source. As the compost cools down, we spread it on our garden beds,and replace it with fresh-- chicken manure, straw, leaves, kitchen scraps, etc. put into the compost/digestor for more heat.

An example plan for a backyard solar greenhouse, we will use is 12 by 15-feet, outside measurements. Allowing for foundation, walkway and perhaps a small potting bench, there should be approximately 50-square feet on each side, or a total usable area of 100-square feet. This doesn't sound like much space, but keep in mind that the purpose of the solar greenhouse is to supply your family with fresh, organically grown vegetables during the winter, when the prices of fresh vegetables are highin local stores.

Another factor to keep in mind is that solar greenhouse production is intensive production. Planting schedules, plant spacings type of vegetables grown, intercropping, and successive cropping are important for greatest returns.

Using the 12 by 15-foot solar greenhouse as an example, let's see just what vegetables, and how much of each can be grownon 100-square feet. Several vegetables which can be grown include; tomatoes, lettuce, onions, radishes, cucumbers, celery andother green leafy vegetables; such as spinach, kale and Swiss chard. Where several crops such as these are grown in one solar greenhouse, the best compromise is that which is required by tomatoes. This is 60'F at night, and 75'F day temperatures.

Start seeds in cell-packs, when seedlings are 6-inches set in soil-beds in solar greenhouse water with fish/seaweed mixnewly-set tomato plants, soak the area around plants 2 to 3-inches deep. Plants may be mulched with 2 to 3-inches ofshredded/leaves. They should be trained to a stake or cage, and kept pruned to a single stem.

Tomato flowers are readily pollinated by wind movement when grown out-of-doors, but in a solar greenhouse each flowercluster must be vibrated 3 to 5-times each week to insure proper pollination. Pollinate between 10 A. and 3 PM. and moreoften during cloudy weather. Be sure to vibrate each flower cluster as long as it has open flowers on it, since an interval of several days occurs between the time the first and last flowers on a cluster open.

Maintaining balanced nutrition becomes even more important since day length influences the amount of feeding and water plantswill require. Note: Excessive nitrogen (N) will stimulate vegetative, succulent growth which is likely to be less fruitful and moresusceptible to attack by leaf diseases.

While tomato plants are small, radishes and lettuce may be inter-planted between the radishes, lettuce and other short-season crops can be double and triple-cropped in the same place, thus increasing returns per foot.

As midwinter passes and days start to lengthen, one's thoughts turn to the not too far distant future when climate and soil conditions are suitable for outdoor gardening. This is the time to plan what you will need in the way of vegetables and flower plants and order seed and other supplies needed to start the plants.

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Written by: Crow Miller, Syndication, OrganicCyberGarden.


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