Tricks and Trends

Even the most seasoned gardeners can learn new tricks and trends that help keep things fresh. Every now and then, blog topics will be posted here to help you consider new information, creative options, best practices. Because learning is fun! 

Complexities of Composting

Having done backyard composting, I must confess that it never occurred to me that there was any question as to its environmental benefits. Returning carbon to the soil that had come from the soil always seemed a wise exercise. However, as this article by Robert Pavlis of Garden Fundamentals reveals, composting well is the only way to minimize the environmental impact of composting.

It’s a long read and has some complex elements, but is well worth the effort.

Does Composting Contribute to Climate Change?

The Dirt on Autumn Gardening

Autumn is a great time to re-arrange the garden and plant new treasures. Cooler nights reduce the likelihood of transplant shock and we have the benefit of recognizing what we’re transplanting – unlike the spring when it’s mostly by guess-and-by-golly!

One thing to keep in mind in this age of climate change and unpredictable rainfall is that when you transplant or install a new plant, it’s critical to provide it with the water it needs to become established before freeze up. Ensure the success of your new garden stars by “mudding” them in – creating a slurry into which you plant them, and then watering them in well and thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots.

Trees are a particular case in this regard. By and large, they become “awake” in spring before we can see any evidence of this, and are often bereft of moisture during the early weeks. It is therefore important to water your trees well as the freeze up is setting in, providing them with needed moisture as soon as the ground begins to thaw.

Fall is such a delightful season. But, we must not forget how much our gardens rely on us to ensure their survival through the winter months and into the spring thaw.

Have questions? Send me a message. I love talking garden dirt!

Spring is Arriving Reluctantly!

At Dibble and Hoe Garden Maintenance and Design, it’s very difficult  to find the time in the spring season to write blogs on garden topics. This erratic 2019 season has made that challenge nearly impossible! So, instead, I will invite you to celebrate the slow emergence of your spring garden, in which every sign of growth and colour evokes smiles and hope.  Here are a couple of images from my sources of optimism. May you find a special delight in your spring garden as well! 

Bugs in the Bed!

It’s time to accept it: there are bugs in our beds.  Not the beds we sleep in, but the ones we grow stuff in – food, flowers, shrubs, trees. All healthy soils have bugs. Get used to it. This I learned unequivocally in my certification course as an Organic Master Gardener Practitioner in 2017. Organic gardening practices contribute to the very high standard of care we deliver in your garden, and how we help ensure that your garden soil remains teeming with life.

Wanting to be sure that I offer the most up to date science on soil health, I did what any rational person does in the 21st Century: I Googled it. And, I discovered the EGU: “The European Geosciences Union, is Europe’s premier geosciences union, dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the Earth, planetary, and space sciences for the benefit of humanity, worldwide.” This month (April 2019), a gathering of some of Europe’s most pre-eminent geoscientists will present on the most up to date data in their respective fields.

So, here’re some essential points from the abstract for a presentation that will be delivered at this forum that speaks to “…the many connections of biodiversity to soil quality and human health.”

  • … soil biodiversity has been shown to be important in controlling populations of pathogens;
  • healthy, well-covered soils can reduce disease outbreaks;
  • carbon-rich soils may also reduce outbreaks of human and animal parasites;
  • exposure to soil microbes can reduce allergies;
  • soil organisms can provide biological disease and pest control agents, healthy soils mean healthier and more abundant foods;
  • soil microbes can enhance crop plant resilience;
  • healthy soils promote good clean air quality, less prone to wind and water erosion;
  • healthy soils provide clean and safe water through filtration, decontamination by microbes and removal of pollutants.
  • Soil microbes are a source of medicines, such as antibiotics, anticancer drugs and many more.

What’s more, Mycobacterium vaccae, a common microbe in almost all soils, has been proven to be effective in treating tuberculosis and depression1.  Lends credence to the old saw that “Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes.”

So here’re the fundamentals of bugs in our soils.

  • There are MILLIONS in each teaspoon full, every single one of them playing a vital role in keeping the soil healthy.
  • There are good and bad bugs in our soils; that’s okay. They’ll balance out if we leave them to it. Relax.
  • When we disturb the soil, we destroy the habitat for these critters. If we persist in disturbing the soil repeatedly (and perhaps unnecessarily), we risk destroying the very foundation of what makes our gardens grow.
  • Plant nutrients are only nutritious once the bugs convert those elements to something root-edible. No bugs, no edible plant nutrients.
  • Clean, well-rotted compost provides some of the essential elements for the soil biome to thrive.

So, feed the bugs and you feed your body, in many more ways than we even now appreciate. Starve the bugs, and the earth – and eventually you – will suffer the consequences.

I like to keep in mind the very humbling fact that humans are not, in fact, at the top of the food chain as we were so often taught. Rather we are just part of the cycle of life, and eventually, the bugs in the soil will prove that to us.

  1.  Link to University of Colorado Boulder study.

Soil is at the Root

As late winter days get longer and our imaginations run rampant with the possibilities that still lie dormant in our gardens, this is a good time to consider your garden soil. Your garden’s soil is at the root of everything that happens in your garden. (Yes, the pun is intended!) Healthy soil is an indispensable element to a healthy, beautiful garden.

Healthy soil has some basic characteristics:

a)      It holds water, but not for too long

b)      It holds air, but not too much

c)       It has good tilth – it will clump in your fist, but fall apart readily

If you have ever gardened in clay, you know how frustrating it can be. Even though clay has wonderful nutrients that plants love, clay holds water. For a long time. And that makes it unsuitable for plants that need good drainage. In this type of soil, adding compost and lots of it, will improve growing conditions enormously and increase your plant choices. Basically, however, once you have clay, you will always have clay.

Spring is a particularly dangerous time for clay soils. With its tiny pore spaces, compaction at this vulnerable time can ruin a clay garden. So, it’s important to stay off the soil until conditions are noticeably drier. Every footfall can create an area of compaction from which the clay soil cannot recover. If it is absolutely critical that you get into the garden before it dries, lay down a broad plank to disperse the weight and avoid compaction under your feet.

Although not quite so dramatically vulnerable, clay loam must also be protected from compaction. How do you know if you have clay loam? Grab a fistful of your wet soil and make a ball. Now squeeze that ball up through your fist. Does it form a ribbon that breaks off after an inch or two? Then in all likelihood it’s clay loam. Use the same caution as described for clay soils; stay out of the garden until it dries. (Here’s a link to a good document on the topic of soil structures.)

Sandy loam is less vulnerable to compaction, but it is still wise to be cautious about causing compaction. Truly, the only soil that won’t compact is sand. In sand, compost is also your friend. In truth, compost is a positive addition to any soil.

Fundamentally, it’s important to know that everything depends on the pore space in your soil. That’s where roots breathe, drink and eat. No pore space, no roots. No roots, no plant. No plant, no garden. So, the wise gardener stays out of the garden until it dries.  When it’s dry enough, do your soil a favour: lay down some stepping stones, and use those to navigate through your garden from now on.

Protecting your garden soil from compaction is the first step in keeping it healthy, but there are more healthy-soil strategies that we will discuss in future blogs. Please come back!

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