Category Archives: Fertilizing

Weeds and Why They Grow

Yellow Flowers

Here’s an unusual read for Green Bean’s Bookworm Challenge.

I bet you never thought that weeds are really an indication of the nutrients in your soil. I never did. I just thought certain weeds grew where they grew because they just kept sprouting from the year before. But by changing the nutrient content of your soil can actually allow new weeds to grow and stop the growth of weeds you currently have. Interesting, isn’t it? I never would have thought. We learned this all in a book that Scott ordered called, “Weeds and why they grow” by Jay McCamen from Moses (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Inc.)

The root systems of some weeds, especially perennials, can penetrate deep into the subsoil to loosen it. Some weed roots can go down into the soil as much as twenty feet, breaking up the soil and improving drainage and aeration. They also bring up minerals and make it possible for the root systems of other plants, such as vegetables, to use those minerals and natural aeration.

As I mentioned, you can identify problems in your soil by what weeds are growing in it. There is a detailed chart that lists almost every weed out there and the soil nutients that allow that weed to proser. Through reading this book and looking in our yard, we found that the prolific srouting of purslane, amaranth, dandelions and some others that we have a calcium deficiency. That would also explain our yearly battle with blossom end rot on our San Marzanos. So off to the nursery we went, and back we came with liquid calcium which the man working there said is the best way to apply calcium at this stage in the growing cycle.

So once we get our calcium problem fixed, will the purslane, amaranth and dandelions leave? Quite possibly. And in its place maybe red clover will arrive. How will it get there? Well weed seeds can lie dormant and viable in the soil for as long as 30, 50, even 70 years! They are just waiting for a spec of light and for their proper soil conditions to sprout. (I’m serious about that spec of light, a fraction of a second of sunlight will do to get it growing, which is why he recommends tilling at night.)

Another thing I learned is that a garden that is free from weeds is actually a very unhealthy garden. When very little weeds grow it means the soil is actually extremely unhealthy. So it’s a good thing if you have weeds. Healthy weeds mean a healthy soil.

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Filed under books, Fertilizing, Seeds, Soil, Weeds, what we've learned

7 Things to Improve Your Soil

basil
We’ve been thinking a lot about dirt lately. Or, rather ‘soil’ as we gardeners like to say. We’ve been thinking about weeds and learning about how you can tell a lot about your soil by what weeds grow in it. We’re just starting to learn about this so we’ll keep you posted. But it’s gotten me to think about how as gardeners we are truly stewards of the soil. Any organic gardener knows that your plants are only as healthy as your soil, so its important to take excellent care of it. The best way to ensure your soils health is to add plenty of organic matter. Sure, we know that the three big soil nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but macro and micro nutrients are also critical because those are are what break down the organic matter to release the nutrients to your plants. Here’s a list of things you can easily do to improve your soils health.

  • 1. For new garden beds, mix one inch of compost or 3 inches of grass clippings into the top 6 inches of soil.
  • 2. Mulch around plants with 2 inches of grass clippings, coffee ground or compost which will slowly add nutrients to the soil and encourage earthworms and other soil organisms
  • 3. Apply a spray of compost tea. Compost tea is low in nutrients but high in micronutrients
  • 4. Plant a living mulch this summer such as oats or white dutch clover around your vegetables. Their roots will loosen compacted soil and concentrate nutrients for your vegetables to feed on.
  • 5. Dry out eggshells and crumble them into the soil for a boost of calcium and micronutrients. (via katrina)
  • 6. Start a compost pile, bin or vermiculture box.
  • 7. Double dig your soil about 2 feet deep, blending in compost as you go. The benefits will last indefinately. This will improve drainage, aeration, improve root growth, encourage earthworms and allow nutrients to be evenly spread through the root zone.
  • All these ideas are pretty easy things that you can do this weekend. I hope you try a few!

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    Filed under Compost, Cover Crops, Fertilizing, Mulch, Soil, what we've learned

    free fertilizer vs. $16,000 fertilizer

    amaranth
    We a seemingly endless amount of weeding and thinning this weekend which gave us a nice amount of amaranth, pursulane, chinese mustard and micro-greens to have for salads. A small reward for all the time spent on our knees.
    grass clippings
    Scott also mowed our lawn and used the grass clipping in our newest experiment in the broccoli/cauliflower bed. We read a great article in Mother Earth News this weekend that explored the different types of organic fertilizer on the market. As you know, fertilizers must be labeled by their Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium (N-P-K) levels. Being that nitrogen is a likely deficient in many soils, the author compared the fertilizers based on their per pound of nitrogen. She compares 17 different store bought organic fertilizers, the cheapest being SoyBean Meal (7-2-1) at $4/lb of nitrogen and the most expensive being TerraCycle Plant Food (.03-.002-.02) at a whopping $16,987/lb of nitrogen.

    Or she says, you can just use ordinary grass clippings which contain anywhere from 2% – 5% of nitrogen. In most areas you can work in about half an inch into your soil, or put a 1-2 inch layer as a mulch on your garden bed and that will provide all the nutrients most crops need for a full season of growth! Not only will it provide nutrients, but the grass clippings as a mulch act as a good weed prevention and as a moisture retainer.

    Usually we just put our grass clippings into the compost pile and let them compost. Doing that dilutes the nitrogen power down to about 1%, but the benefit of compost is that it departs its nutrients into the soil over a matter of years rather than in just one growing season.

    Either way, obviously, is beneficial. And obviously much, much cheaper than buying organic fertilizer, wouldn’t you say? I don’t know, free vs. $16,987, you make the call.

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    Filed under Fertilizing, just picked, Mulch, Our Weekends, what we've learned