Hello fellow garden enthusiasts! Sorry for the long hiatus, sometimes life throws a curve ball, and we have to do the best we can with it.
The nasty weather we’ve had this January and February may have delayed some of your winter projects this year, but we still have some time.
Amending your soil is one of the best things you can do for your gardening success. Our soil and water are both very alkaline. If you want to adjust that, you need to start with a soil test, and then develop a plan. You will probably find that it is not cost effective to try to amend a large garden plot. Some people bring in truckloads of topsoil from somewhere else, but we are then still using alkaline water on everything, so does it help in the long run? Truthfully, I don’t know. I haven’t tried it. It just seems like trying to stop the ocean with a broom.
Another method, more tried and true, is to switch to container or raised bed gardening. Both of these methods are hugely popular now days. You can hardly buy a magazine that doesn’t have an article on it. Even the seed companies are in on the idea and have special varieties that are marketed as “container friendly.” Don’t forget though, you still have the alkaline water to deal with.
The easiest way to get around all that is to buy varieties that tolerate alkaline soil. You can look for seed that has been developed with alkaline soils in mind or use varieties that have done well in your area. The extension office for your county is another good resource.
Back to the soil amendments.
I don’t know of a soil type that does not benefit from increasing the organic matter. Heavy clay soils? Organic matter breaks up the tight clay and improves your drainage. Hard rocky type soils? More organic matter! It helps the soil retain water and increases the nutritive properties of the soil itself. Nice fluffy loam? (You lucky duck!) Still, more organic matter is the ticket! It keeps the soil in good condition and feeds the microscopic organisms in your soil that improve it’s structure and optimize over all production.
Now. What can you use as organic matter? Almost anything! Straw has always been popular. Cow, chicken or horse manure, compost, old hay, sawdust, just look around and see what you have available to you. A lot of people use old newspaper or cardboard just be aware of how long it takes for those to break down in your soil. (Editor’s note: The Independent is printed with non-toxic soy ink and recycled newsprint.)
You also need to be aware of unintended effects from some of the materials. For example, hay or straw can bring in weed seed, and too much fresh manure can burn your tender plants. For a while I used to put old firewood ash in the garden. Turns out that makes the soil more alkaline. Oops.
One project that can also be easier to do in winter is providing a wind break. Our winds can be brutal. And endless! When it is finally warm enough to plant your tomatoes outside, you don’t want the wind to cut them off at the soil line.
There are different ways to tackle the problem. One of the most popular is a living windbreak. They are wonderful to look at and highly effective, but take a while to grow. Fences are faster, but can be costly.
When I first started gardening, we laughed and said it looked like I was growing trash. I used Big Gulp cups, milk jugs, popcorn buckets, etc. Not very pretty, but useful.
Later, just by chance, I grabbed a piece of scrap 8-inch irrigation pipe. Eureka! It has worked great for me as a windbreak for baby plants, I love it. But look around. See what you have around the house that you might be able to use. It doesn’t take much to make a significant difference to your plant.
Now is also the time to look back and think about last year’s garden. Think about how much produce you had. Too much? Too little? Grew well or didn’t take to our climate? How much do I want this year?
With the above questions in mind, check your seed inventory. Any seed you feel okay about using this year? Need to place an order?
That would bring you to seed starting. I will write more after our next Moriarty Garden Club meeting, where our program will be all about seed starting. The meeting is March 15 in the Moriarty Church of Christ building at 1:30 p.m. We hope you’ll join us there.