Soil’s Voracious Appetite

February 11, 2011

Soil with voracious appetite key to organic garden

How’s your 4×8-foot organic “Jim’s Plot” doing? If your garden is like ours, most of the plants have played out their life cycle or succumbed to the cold weather, even using Agribon or some type of frost-prevention row covers.

It’s a mixed lot; and a pretty ragged one! This winter has not been kind, but it should pay off with fewer bugs in summer.

Some of these plants, like the chard and carrots, will spring to life in spring. So, don’t be too quick to pull up old plants if they appear to have good roots.

Pretty soon it will be time to plant again. I know, looking at seed catalogs has you champing at the bit, but it’s not time yet.

Look ahead on the calendar. When do you intend to plant?

Here in central Mississippi, the old folks used to plant seeds on Good Friday, which this year is April 22. To be cautious, I’ve always planted a week after Easter, as we sometimes have a frost that week; Easter this year is April 24. That’s kind of late.

We’ll probably set out plants in March, relying on Agribon to protect them from frost; but that’s a gamble. According to the temperature tables, there’s a 50 percent chance of 28 degree weather where we are on March 9, and warms thereafter.

Here’s a pdf frost chart for Miss.: http://bit.ly/f8QSAb.

For all states, see: http://bit.ly/i5SmsT.

Most of our neighbors set out summer crop plants the first week in May. But there’s a caveat: They use pesticides, herbicides, etc. For organic growing, if you want to beat the bugs, plant as early as you can after the last frost date. We don’t have the luxury of spraying bugs.

So, to set your planting timetable, count back at least 60 days (and possibly 90 days), which should be now: Time to work your soil to make sure that it will have digested all the old plant material from your cover crops and any other green amendments so you are not robbing your new plants in spring from nitrogen being used in the decomposition process.

Why the variation in time? You want your soil to be hungry and healthy.

Healthy soil with lots of microorganisms in it is hungry and will digest vegetable matter quickly, turning it into rich, moist earth with lots of “loft” in it, to hold moisture and combat compaction; unhealthy soil will take time.

You know that smell of freshly turned earth? That’s actually the odor of actinomycetes, fungi-like bacteria. Soil repeatedly dosed with chemicals lacks that odor and the moist, crumbly texture of living soils.

Chemically laced soils can still grow crops when more chemicals are added, even when all the naturally occurring fungi that act to feed plants are killed off by them. But we want a full organic symphony of nutrients for full flavors with our food crops.

You can quicken the soil digestion process, if needed, by adding micro-organisms used for compost (such as actinomycetes, rhizobial bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi, Azolla, yeast and others, as long as they are not genetically modified organisms, GMO, which are forbidden in organic products) available from garden supply stores or online. Healthy micro-organisms with lots of vegetable mass for them to eat create robust soils for healthier, bountiful crops.

You might also consider buying a screw-in chlorine filter for your garden hose (available from pool or spa supply stores) to use when watering to keep from stunting the soil micro-organisms.

Keep dumping composted compost in your plot; and stir it around some. If you have some leaves, put them in; keep turning them. It may not appear that much is happening in your garden, but it’s busy. The soil is repairing itself from the growing season, with a little help from you, to make it ready for spring.

We want soil for planting with good “tilth,” crumbly and loose, that smells alive like fresh-turned earth!

Homesteaders, have you ordered your chickens yet?

If you plan on backyard chickens, the major suppliers generally ship from February to July.

Some online sites:

Video – PallenSmith Choosing the Right Chicken Breed for You: http://ow.ly/2Pmzf.

Catalog: Murray McMurray Hatchery: http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com. Or write: Murray McMurray Hatchery, PO BOX 458, 191 Closz Drive, Webster City Iowa 50595. Phone: (515) 832-3280.

Upcoming events:

Annette and I will be at the Gaining Ground-Sustainability Institute of Mississippi conference on “Sustainable Living” Feb. 19-20 in Hattiesburg (Note: Felder Rushing was scheduled to speak, but he is unable to attend). For additional information, visit http://www.ggsim.org.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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