Tag Archives: green manure

Time to Start Work on Garden, Bees

For gardeners in the South, now is the time to at least start planning your garden this year; if you grow organic, or raise bees, it’s maybe even getting a little late.

Even though it's cold outside, it's time to start work on your garden in the South, if you have a new one or are expanding. Here, I ran a first pass over my backyard. I've moved to the city and am putting in a new garden. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Even though it’s cold outside, it’s time to start work on your garden in the South, if you have a new one or are expanding. Here, I ran a first pass over my backyard. I’ve moved to the city and am putting in a new garden. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Why so? If you’re a beekeeper, and you need to replenish a hive or start a new one, you should have ordered your bees in November. That’s sort of a traditional time to order, so that bee breeders can know what to expect. Moreover, if you wait until spring, all the available queens, nucs or packaged bees may be sold out.

That’s especially true of people who follow natural beekeeping, or keeping bees without chemicals; there are fewer commercial breeders. (And before you email me, I recommend two: BeeLicious in Hattiesburg, MS, and Beeweaver in Texas.)

Regarding gardening, it’s somewhat the same story if you’re an organic gardener.

You want to plant as early as possible after frost in order to try to get a leg up on the bugs. I usually start planting the week after Easter (in central Mississippi).

I’ve just recently moved to “the big city” — well, it’s a small city, population 1,400 — but it’s “big” for me after living in the country for the past 15 years. (You can read more about it in my newsletter: http://mad.ly/36ff64?pact=20069131533&fe=1)

With the permission of my landlady, I’m putting in a garden. I managed to get a first pass with my tiller on January 31, to break up the roots of the turf grass. I’ll give it another pass in a week or so; then, add compost and till it.

The proposed garden has good black soil. I'll have it tested by the state soil lab just to see what's in it. If you're an organic grower, you need to test your soil every year. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

The proposed garden has good black soil. I’ll have it tested by the state soil lab just to see what’s in it. If you’re an organic grower, you need to test your soil every year. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Not sure what I’m going to plant yet. I’ll send off a soil sample to get it tested and find out what it needs, if anything. Regardless, I plan to build up the soil with compost and might boost it with “green manure” (a cover crop).

We’ll see….

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, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

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Re-energize Your Soil For A Better Garden Next Year

Sept. 26, 2012
Re-energize Your Soil For A Better Garden Next Year

Now that fall is officially here, a lot of gardeners think their work is done. Well, not quite. That is, not if you expect bountiful harvests next year.

The reason? Soil fertility. The big agribusinesses talk a lot about “inputs” when producing crops because there are a lot of “outputs.” The “outputs,” simply put, are the fresh fruit and vegetables (and weeds) that your garden produces. When you pull these plants out of the garden, you are removing nutrients in the soil contained in the plant.

If enough of these “outputs” occur, without any new “inputs” of new nutrients, the soil becomes exhausted. That means, unless you work to keep your soil fertile, you may only have stunted plants, puny produce and lots of disease and insects.

Big industrial farms dump synthetic fertilizers as “inputs” to boost production, but without soil-building practices, future yields suffer, and farmers have to use more chemicals on the soil to fight diseases and insects, while the nutrient value of the crops declines.

Organic growing, however, is holistic: The soil is as important as the crop, so we want to ensure that our soil is healthy, so that our produce is healthy, what we eat is healthy, and we are healthy.

The easiest way is to simply keep a compost pile and add compost periodically to the garden. That way, you are at least putting back into the garden what you take out.

Another easy way is to use “green manure.” That is, don’t throw away the weeds you pick out of the garden; instead, compost and return them. You can also plow under any plants that you don’t harvest.

Now is the best time for this method: Plant a cover crop that will actually add fertility to the soil over the winter. Clover is a great winter cover crop, adding nitrogen at the rate of 60 pounds or more per acre.

Another suggestion: Why not use a cover crop you can eat?

Fava beans (which actually are a type of vetch) are filled with essential nutrients, especially phosphorus, potassium, vitamin K, vitamin A and iron. They are low in sodium and high in fiber and, for women, contain phyto-estrogens that herbalists say ease menopause. Fava beans are routinely listed as among the top 10 anti-cancer foods, as they contain herein, which research has shown to block carcinogens in the digestive tract.

The best news for your garden is that they can produce a whopping 200 to 300 pounds per acre of nitrogen. They can withstand temperatures down to 10 degrees, so they make a great cover crop in Mississippi.

Cover crops are often called the keystone of organic agriculture because they do so much while the farmer does so little. They crowd out weeds, provide habitat for beneficial insects, return fertility to the soil by fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil and they help the planet’s climate change by sequestering carbon. Not only that, but when they finally succumb to winter or live out their cycle and are turned under as “green manure,” they improve the texture of the soil by adding organic matter as well as fertility.

Quite a lot for a little work, huh?

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.