My garden is coming along as it should – even better than I had hoped.
I was able to do my second tilling, which puts me about halfway toward planting a crop of some kind this spring.
Yesterday, before the cold rains and sleet came, the weather was beautiful with sunny skies and balmy temps — up to the 80s, in fact!
It was so warm, I was able to ride my bike down to the post office, to the grocery and around town before coming home, stripping off my shirt and tilling the garden bare chested to the warm, gentle, caressing breezes.
There’s nothing like getting your hands in the soft, moist soil and working vigorously in the garden! It’s a whole body affair. After wrestling the tiller, and spreading compost, my whole body is sore today. Quite a workout!
I had last tilled my new garden on Jan. 31, with the intention of coming back for a second tilling a couple of weeks later. But the weather has been so strange — ice storms, sleet, snow accumulations and heavy rains — that it didn’t dry out enough to till until yesterday.
You never want to till your garden when it’s soggy. Some people might say, why not? It’s because, if muddy, the soil will create clods that are difficult to break down. Sure, you could go over it repeatedly later, but that’s inefficient and, besides, human nature being what it is, one might be tempted to just overlook some clumping. If so, you are dooming your garden to failure or at least subpar production before you started. Gardening is all about patience.
The goal of the natural, sustainable or organic garden is to provide good tilth. That means soil that crumbles easily, has consistency and some vegetative matter in it. The reason you want light, airy, crumbly soil is so that the roots of the plant and the microorganisms that serve the plant can breathe easily.
Wet, hard or clumping soils suffocate plants or prevent them from easily accessing nutrients they need to thrive.
‘Conventional’ is a Killing Cocktail of Chemicals
The greatest threat to farmland today is not so much its infertility, but the fact that the chemical soups being used on them kill all the microorganisms and collapse the soil, so that roots struggle, plants are anemic and the soil turns to hardpan. Infertility comes form neglected soil health and no amount of artificial chemical means can reverse that.
If you talk to “conventional” (read: chemical) farmers today, most will tell you a major problem they have is with the composition of their soils. They don’t hold moisture, making them susceptible to drought; they are hard, with topsoil that blows away. That’s why so many farmers are now interested in growing tillage radishes as cover crops – to break up the subsoil and create aeration in the soil.
If they didn’t use so many chemicals that kill all life except the GMO seed varieties bred to withstand such poisons, they wouldn’t have such soil problems to start with. But the big chemical/seed manufacturers have sold farmers on the idea that the soil is simply an inconsequential growing medium for a killing cocktail of chemicals.
Natural, organic and sustainable farmers know that the opposite is true. If you have good healthy soil (read: tilth) then you’ll have good healthy plants.
If you are certified organic, then you know that the first step each year is to take a soil sample and send it off for analysis. Last month, it just so happened that I was going to attend a national forum on cover crops sponsored by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Mississippi State University’s Cooperative Extension Service at the local county extension office. So, I took my soil sample with me in order to drop it off while I was there.
They all kidded me when I arrived; the only guy at a soil conference who brought his own soil! (And, yes, they know me as “the organic guy.”)
The local Rankin County office was just great in packaging it up (I had brought it in an empty cat food box) and sending it off. And last week I received the report.
The report was actually better than I had hoped. It just so happened that one of the participants in the forum was the state agronomist and he took one look at my soil and identified it at Black Prairie. I told him that I thought Black Prairie was only around Meridian, extending east into Alabama, and north into Monroe County in Mississippi. He said there were pockets of it in the state, as well, including the Pelahatchie area.
The soil is distinctive for being black in color and sandy. Really nice soil.
The report showed that my soil is high in phosphorus, which is good, and slightly acidic at pH 6.3. For comparison, neutral is 6.6 to 7.3; where I used to live in Lena, an area covered in red clay soil and pine trees, the soil was highly acidic in the 5.5 to 5.7 range. After years of dumping literally tons of horse manure and growing cover crops year round, I was very pleased to have my fields test out at 6.6.
So, I’m thrilled with 6.3!
I’m still mulling over what I’m going to plant. But I’ve got a good start!
More later …
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.