Tag: organic

Making Your Soil Fertile


It really doesn’t matter what type of soil you have in your yard, garden or landscape. Any soil can be amended to make it fertile and robust.

As you can see from the chart above, each type of soil has its own properties. Clay soil has good nutrient- holding and water-holding capacities, but water and air cannot infiltrate into the clay. Clay is also hard to work. Dig a hole into clay soil and fill it with water. You can see what I mean. It takes forever for it to drain. Since clay is so dense, plant roots find it difficult to penetrate very far, leading to a weakened root structure and unhealthy plants. Soil amendments increase the porosity and allow water and air to flow through the soil.

Silt soils have medium capacities in all the categories, but to get the best results it will need to be changed somewhat.

Sand doesn’t hold nutrients or water very well. Pour water into sand and see how fast it drains through. Adding good amendments to sandy soil increases its water- and nutrient-holding abilities.


Now, loam is a different matter. Loam is an almost ideal plant-growing medium. It’s a mixture of equal parts of clay, silt, and sand. But, to make REALLY good soil, a few more ingredients are needed.

“ A soil amendment is any material added to a soil to improve its physical properties. In other words, you want to increase water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage, aeration, and structure. The overriding reason for this is to provide a better environment for roots,” according to a Colorado State University paper by J.G. Davis and D. Whiting.

There are easy ways to develop good soils.

I have found that organic materials are best, although some swear by inorganic methods. Organic amendments have come from something that was once alive…composted leaves and grass clippings (although it’s much better to mulch the clippings as you are mowing), peat moss, manure of many kinds, organic humates,  straw (not hay because hay has tons of seeds),  rotted wood (not fence slats or loading pallets) but wood from trees), fresh vegetable scraps, worm castings, and more. Although wood ash is organic, it is also high in sales and has a high pH.

You should also know this about organic materials. It helps the soil retain water, while also providing infiltration of both air and water. Soil with five percent of organic matter can hold up to three quarts of water per cubic foot. A 4,000 square foot lawn with that amount of organic matter (thus 4,000 cubic feet) can hold up to 3,000 gallons of water, and an acre can hold about 33,000 gallons. If water is a problem (many residents along the coast have their own water wells), it pays to remember that a good soaking rain can save a ton of water-and money – just by adding organic material. Some people make their own compost -others buy organic material (or steal it from their neighbor’s green recycling bin.)

Inorganic materials include vermiculite, perlite, pea gravel, sand, several other mined materials, and man-made crosslinked polymers. These materials are readily available.

I definitely prefer organic methods. I make my own compost- although I can never make enough to meet my needs. I do buy a lot, but I purchase it from local organic compost manufacturers. You can find a local organic composter near your area here.

One other good thing about organic material is that it inoculates the soil with beneficial organisms, which in turn help make nutrients more available to plants, as well as increasing the health of the soil.

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What’s in a name: heirlooms, hybrids and GMOs


When it comes to understanding and distinguishing the difference between heirloom plants, the lines are clear to commercial growers, but may be a bit blurry to the home gardener.

Heirloom plants

If you’re part of the baby boomer generation, your grandparents, and probably your parents grew heirloom vegetables almost exclusively. Most heirloom seeds have been handed down from generation to generation – most regions of the country. They were hand-picked by gardeners for a special trait – perhaps the specific taste of a tomato, or the hardiness of a squash plant. Some may have been developed by a university when commercial breeding of vegetables was just beginning – at least a half century ago. Some heirloom varieties are centuries old.

The most descriptive aspect of heirloom plants is that they are all open pollinated, which means they are pollinated by wind or insects and no human intervention is needed. Also, the characteristics of heirlooms tend to remain stable from one year to the next.

There seems to be general agreement among gardeners that heirloom varieties taste better than hybrids or GMOs.  However, heirlooms are known for certain inconsistencies. The harvest time may be unpredictable, and the size of the fruit can vary widely.

Some heirloom fruits and vegetables include lemon cucumbers, Mexican Sour gherkin cucumber, Pink Accordion tomato, Lebanese Bunching effplant, green nutmeg melon, Romanesco broccoli and Chiogga beet.

Hybrids

Since heirlooms were generally used for home consumption, Gardeners grew them for flavor. However, with increasing U.S. population after World War II, commercial growers began looking for consistencies in harvest time, size, amount of production, ship ability and color of vegetables and other plants.

Plant breeders create hybrids when they intentionally cross-pollinate two different varieties of a plant, hoping to create a new hybrid variety that contains the best traits of both parent varieties. Although hybrids are often confused with genetically modified organisms, there is a significant difference.

Of course, cross-pollination takes place naturally as well but when hybridizing, growers carefully control the pollination to make sure that the traits they are looking for occur with the offspring. Traits they may be looking for are resistance to disease, insect or fungal infections, and bigger or more uniform size. Creating the right hybrid takes many long years of experimentation and recording of traits.

The Juliet (Roma) tomato is an example of a hybrid tomato. So is Sun Gold, a yellow cherry tomato.

Sime of the good traits of hybrids are: dependability in size and color, uniformity in color and flavor, better disease resistance, higher yield and less care required.

Hybrid corn goes back centuries –  to the Mayans in Central America. Hybrids include carrots, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and squash.

GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)

These are plants (or animals) whose genes have been changed using genetic engineering processes. Scientists use genetically modified organisms to produce medicines and foods.

In plants, scientists have been transferring genes for years now. Genes have been transferred within the same species, across species and even across kingdoms. GMOs are also being used in the research and production of pharmaceutical drugs, experimental medicine and, of course, in plants.

There are many GMO crops and many GMO seeds available. Some of the commercial vegetables and food we eat have been genetically modified. The idea behind GMO engineering is to produce a trait in a plant that does not occur naturally in the species.

In plants, GMO species are bred to create resistance to pests, diseases, environmental conditions. It can also help in reducing the amount of large amounts of the food product spoiling that occurs during long transportation. Genetic engineering of plants can also make them resistant to herbicides.

GMOs are not restricted to plant species. Many foodstuffs contain GMOs: baking powder, citric acid, condensed milk, glucose, glycerin, lecithin, maltodextrin, protein isolate starch, sugar, vegetable fat, and vitamins B!2 and E. If you object to consuming GOs, buy certified organic and look for the non-GMO label.

Heirloom plants are not hybrids and hybrids are not genetically modified organisms. Hybrids and heirlooms are not genetically manipulated in labs. They don’t contain foreign DNA from a species that is very different.

GMOs however, cannot exist without laboratory manipulation, Monsanto is the largest developer of plant GMOS, and are followed by several other biotech companies.

Soil Science and Compost


Soil scientists agree that natural compost is the best way to create and maintain healthy soil. This video is an interview with John Ferguson, soil scientist and owner of Nature’s Way Resources.