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August 6, 2011 / 74

Compost and Fertile Soil

All the garden books tell you – you GOTTA have a compost program going. We sorta do, but composting is NOT one of those things that you can “sorta” do.

The proof is in the tomatoes, and the potatoes. We planted 24 stakes of tomatoes, different kinds, at two seeds per stake. All but two of the stakes came up. By the time the drought hit hard, even though we’d planted them with “drought spacing” there were only half of them still alive, and the ground was like concrete. And now we have slightly less than that, but the plants are not robust, and the tomatoes are not worth picking. Blossom end rot and some other problems pretty much did them in, even though I hand watered them.

The tomatoes are planted right next to the potatoes. The potatoes are doing just fine. We didn’t use compost on them either. So what’s the difference?

The tomatoes were on a spot that was in grass for about 20 years.

The potatoes were on a spot that was in Timothy for about 20 years.

So… even when you are opening up new ground, it should be composted. Mix in grass clippings, manure, coffee grounds, table scraps – whatever you can get your hands on. Our problem is that we just don’t generate enough garbage or grass clippings and such to make a difference – given the size of plots we opened up this year.

Next year we hope to have the chicken and guinea bedding to mix in. If you live in an area where you can’t have live animals, you can buy pre-composted materials.

The dried beans are drying down now (400 row feet +/-), and by removing the pole beans from the tops of the bush beans, the bush beans seem to be perking up some. And I ran some of the wheat and rye through the moisture tester – and was pleased to see that I won’t need to dry it further. It’s at optimum for storage!

We also have a potential garden area that had some shredded old plastic on part of it, and the other end we let just go wild this year. Wow! That end is FERTILE! But then we tilled in dead plants and such last year, and it’s the place we used to dump the barn cleaning stuff when we had an 18 head cow-calf operation, fed some pigs and had chickens too.

So this fall we’re going to till in some grass and such, and plant the fertile end in rye – the rye serving as a green manure – and till in grass and weeds and chicken straw in the non-fertile end. The ground there is hard and clayey dirt with little to no topsoil (aka loess soil/clay). So we’re going to make some top soil for it.

Then in Spring, we’ll till in the rye and plant a different soil building plant and just let the area sit for at least a year. The bad end needs SERIOUS soil reconstruction/restoration, so we may get some night crawlers from WalMart and release them there… then fight off the moles and gophers and snakes who will want to eat them.

Compost is such an important part of organic gardening, that we’re considering getting a couple of cows – which would be triple-use animals. One they’d provide automatic lawn/field mowing (;-D), two they’d provide manure for the garden and fields, and three, they’d taste good. The chickens are a small scale beginning for the manure provision, and a down payment on ramping-up the composting.



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