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My Garden History And Plans


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#1 Reverend Blair OFFLINE  

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Posted May 04, 2013 - 08:27 AM

Okay, so I don't have a garden so far. There's still frost in the ground, and the moisture from the snowmelt isn't gone yet.  When the frost is gone, I have to drive some t-posts in for my combination deer fence/trellis.  

 

Right now I'm just waiting for the first crop of weeds to pop up so I can till.  In the meantime I'm spraying compost tea once a week to rebuild the soil, and letting last year's leaves rot in a bit.  I think I might buy a couple or four yards of compost from a commercial place as well. And rock dust, if I can find a decent (not crazy expensive) source around here.

 

Compost, in tea or dirt form, replenishes the microbes in the soil, but rock dust replenishes the minerals.  Plants need both to be successful.

 

The soil in the garden has been depleted for at least 20 years, but I've managed to keep it going just enough to keep planting.  The problem is that I start from scratch every year...the plants use up whatever nutrients I manage to get into the soil in the spring.  I really need to break that cycle, so I'm planning on going overboard this year...plenty of tea all year (5-10 gallons a week), along with whatever leaves and grass clippings I can get.  Then in the fall more leaves and whatever manure I've managed to get my hands on.

 

The reason the soil is so depleted?  The history of this lot (and eight others) is that it was Catholic Mission property from the late 1800's until the early 1940's.  It sat vacant until Canada entered the Second World War in 1939, and was used as a community victory garden until 1944, when the Catholic church divided the property into nine lots and sold them.  A man named Moore built this house with used lumber pilfered from the CN rail yards. The story is that they even "borrowed" a CN truck to haul the stolen lumber in.  It isn't an uncommon story around here, since the community basically formed as a place for railway workers to live and expanded during and after the war.  Throw in that building materials were hard to get during the war, and it all makes sense.

 

The garden has been there ever since 1939 though, and the soil here was pretty marginal to begin with.  Before the two sections of land immediately around here had houses and roads, it was considered poor pasture and definitely not suitable for crop land.  That seems odd, since so much of the land in this province is so rich, but it's just one of those little pockets that was never very good.  

 

The real kicker is that the field immediately behind my property is pretty good soil because CN cleared it of bush and used it to keep (and feed) livestock back there until sometime in the 1920's.  The manure and left-over hay enriched the soil enough that it was decent pasture until the 60's or early 70's, which helped build it further.  Since then it has been vacant, switching hands between the city and various land speculators, but never being developed.  It's basically a mix of native prairie grasses and whatever seeds have blown in, and I hope it stays vacant.    

 

Anyway, I grew tired of fighting with the soil in my garden.  I had a few choices.  I could bring in loads and loads of top soil for a quick fix, I could plant it all to trees like my neighbour to the east did, seed it to grass like the neighbour to the west, or I could rebuild it.

 

My first impulse was to bring in soil, but I started researching ways to rehabilitate marginal land naturally, and it looked kind of fun.  Not only that, but it's a lot cheaper and the labour is spread out over time. Planting is part of the process too, so I get veggies while I'm doing it.  Basically it's an experiment.

 

The basic process is to feed it lots of natural nutrients. I've opted for compost tea because it's cheap and easy and stretches out the available compost a long way.  It also works directly with the existing soil, which should help build a good base for later amendments.  As I mentioned before, I might combine this with some commercially-produced compost. 

 

The second part of the plan is to use close planting techniques and companion planting.  This is supposed to keep the weeding to a minimum and allow the soil to retain the nutrients better.  Traditionally I've planted far apart to leave room for equipment, but the tillage is bad for the soil.

 

The third part is leaves.  Not rocket science...forest floors tend to have very rich top soils because of all the leaves rotting.  I've got some out there ready to work into the soil, and I'm looking for  some more to use as mulch.

 

The fourth part is rock dust.  The microbes love the minerals and the plants love the microbes. For some reason when the glaciers receded they forgot about this little patch of land.

 

The fifth part is manure and more leaves in the fall.  It needs to to rot in, and that process slows to a stop here from December to February or March.

 

The last part is crop rotation. I've been pretty sloppy about this in the past, other than moving the onions.  Part of that is because of space and shading from tall plants, but much of it is just my own laziness. I'm going to work on a five year rotation plan, I think. That should give room for adjustments as I go and allow for mistakes.  

 

So that's where I'm at, from beginning to now.  We'll see how it goes.

 

 

 

 


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#2 shorty ONLINE  

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Posted May 04, 2013 - 08:42 AM

Wow that is quite the project. It sounds like a good plan for the rehab. I have used leaves for several years with decent results. The first years I left them on top for over winter and it was a wet mess in the spring that wouldn't dry out. Now I try to lightly mix them in a bit with a tiller to get away from the mat on top.


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#3 olcowhand ONLINE  

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Posted May 04, 2013 - 08:57 AM

To speed the process of your compost pile, add a handful of ammonium nitrate between layers.  It takes nitrogen to break the stuff down, so without added N, the soil will look rich, but be on the low side of N.  The pile will shrink much faster with added N too, so you can actually "see" it at work.


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#4 daytime dave OFFLINE  

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Posted May 04, 2013 - 08:58 AM

Thanks Rev, that was very informative.  It was a very interesting read also.  I liked the railroad story.

 

Daniel, thanks for that tip.


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#5 HowardsMF155 OFFLINE  

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Posted May 04, 2013 - 09:57 AM

Very interesting project you have going there.  I will mention that I recently discovered leaves as a gardening material.  There is a landscaping place nearby which collects the town's unwanted leaves in the fall, allows them to compost, then sells the compost.  However, there are piles with actual leaves still there, and I discovered last year that spreading old leaves in the rows helps hold in moisture, cuts down on weed growth if you get it thick enough, and can be plowed under in the fall.  This is all still new to me, and I hope to repeat the process this year.

 

I look forward to seeing your progress.


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#6 JD DANNELS OFFLINE  

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Posted May 04, 2013 - 09:57 AM

You can surely build up that soil and your going at it the right way.
Back in the 80s Iwas mowing 16 lawns besides my full-time job in the factory.
This was in a high income area where the owners wanted all clippings and leaves hauled off.
We were living on a place that had been bulldozed and terraced in the 50s.
I started to till up a little garden and found there was blue clay not much good for anything but making pottery.
I triple spaded it and threw out all the dirt in a pile.
When i would bring home grass clipping and leaves I would put in a layer about 6 inches deep and cover it with clay.
then run a tiller over it to mix it, I filled up the hole doing this.
The next summer I had one of my best gardens ever.
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#7 twostep OFFLINE  

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Posted May 04, 2013 - 09:55 PM

When i would bring home grass clipping and leaves I would put in a layer about 6 inches deep and cover it with clay.
then run a tiller over it to mix it, I filled up the hole doing this.
The next summer I had one of my best gardens ever.

good call... the 10' extension I put on my garden is nothing but orange and white clay.

 

Daniel, thanks for the tip on the NH4NO3!



#8 Reverend Blair OFFLINE  

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Posted May 05, 2013 - 07:58 AM

Wow that is quite the project. It sounds like a good plan for the rehab. I have used leaves for several years with decent results. The first years I left them on top for over winter and it was a wet mess in the spring that wouldn't dry out. Now I try to lightly mix them in a bit with a tiller to get away from the mat on top.

I have an s-tine cultivator now, and I find it's great for working the leaves in and spreading them around.  One of the things I've learned in researching this that roto-tilling looks nice and leaves a nice seed bed, but is really hard on the soil structure that supports the microbes. When things dry up enough, I can go over it with the double disc I got from Massey Driver too.

 

The purists seem to use nothing but a garden fork, but there's no seat time in that.



#9 Reverend Blair OFFLINE  

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Posted May 05, 2013 - 08:09 AM

To speed the process of your compost pile, add a handful of ammonium nitrate between layers.  It takes nitrogen to break the stuff down, so without added N, the soil will look rich, but be on the low side of N.  The pile will shrink much faster with added N too, so you can actually "see" it at work.

I actually have a little of the liquid form. I've been adding a quick spritzing once a week, and it works well.  Dumping in the sludge left over from the compost tea really helps too...like adding an inocculant.  We just don't produce enough kitchen and yard waste to have sufficient compost though. 



#10 Reverend Blair OFFLINE  

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Posted May 05, 2013 - 08:16 AM

You can surely build up that soil and your going at it the right way.
Back in the 80s Iwas mowing 16 lawns besides my full-time job in the factory.
This was in a high income area where the owners wanted all clippings and leaves hauled off.
We were living on a place that had been bulldozed and terraced in the 50s.
I started to till up a little garden and found there was blue clay not much good for anything but making pottery.
I triple spaded it and threw out all the dirt in a pile.
When i would bring home grass clipping and leaves I would put in a layer about 6 inches deep and cover it with clay.
then run a tiller over it to mix it, I filled up the hole doing this.
The next summer I had one of my best gardens ever.

Grass clippings are great because they have a lot of nitrogen in them.  I've been using them as a mulch around nitrogen-hungry plants, but it seems the better way to do it is to use them around plants that bind nitrogen to the soil. 






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