Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Growing Food - My Garden 110517

Today I spent a little over an hour putting bird netting over my little garden.  I mentioned before that I have developed pretty healthy soil, full of worms.  Well, a local bird has become fascinated by my garden and has been tearing it up, presumably looking for worms and other little critters to eat.  I tried putting bits and pieces of metal fencing over each small plot (salvaged from a local roll-off) but the bird squeezed through it to scratch and dig in my soil.  It basically destroyed 90% of my scallions, lettuce, and new radish plot.  Several of my green bean plants were also uprooted or otherwise damaged.  So I bought a 5x4 meter piece of bird netting and installed that today.  Search Amazon.com for bird netting

Now normally, I would shoot the bird and dig it under as fertilizer but that is pretty much frowned on here in The Netherlands and I don't have a pellet gun here anyway.  The bird netting should work.  I'll have to replant quite a bit and that will set me back about three weeks.  But a few of the plants survived so I'll get some early maturing crops to pick.

Speaking of picking; I have harvested four radishes so far and they were really good.  Each of them were the size of a ping-pong ball.  I like to just cut them in quarters, shake a little salt out on my plate, and set them briefly on the salt for a hint of saltiness.  I'm not sure if it is the soil or the sparse sunshine in my plot but last year both my onions and radishes were very strong.  I like a good bit of bite in my onions and radishes.  A lot of people like sweet onions and vidalias but if I am eating an onion I want to taste an onion.  I think your nose should run and your eyes should water when you eat an onion or radish.

Something I noticed a few decades ago is the difference between how the plants respond to water from my hose and rain water. They definitely do better with rain water.  Most people think rain water is pure and pH neutral but neither is correct.  Rain picks up all kinds of stuff from the air as it falls to earth and it reacts with various gases to become slightly to moderately acidic (a pH between 5.0 and 6.5 depending on where you live).  That's why "acid rain" is not a really recent phenomenon.  The earth has always had acid rain.  Anyway, the lower pH and the dust and detritus picked up during its travel to your lawn or garden are actually beneficial.  Water from your hose or facet (if you are on city water) is pH neutral and chemically pure.  It is also chemically treated with clorine. What is clorine used for?  It is used to purify water by killing all the micro-organisms.  When this clorinated water hits your soil it also kills micro-organisms.  Unfortunately, those are much needed micro-organisms.  They will recover of course because unless you flood your garden you won't kill them all.

So what do you need to do?  First, get your soil tested for pH and nutrients.  There are home kits for this but the most accurate way to do this is to take several small samples from several spots in your garden, mix them well, and send a sample of that to your local County Extension Agent or agricultural college for testing.  It is relatively inexpensive to do and will tell you the health of your soil.  With that information you will then know exactly what soil amendments you need for optimum soil.
Soil Testing Kit
Search Amazon.com for soil test kits
Garden soil between 5.5 and 8.0 is generally considered balanced for most crops.  Soil pH does effect the availability of certain nutrients and minerals though.  Lower pH soils (acidic) generally are deficient in:
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Molybdenum
If the pH is too high (alkaline), the soil may have all the required nutrients and minerals but they are locked up at the molecular level and unavailable to the plants.

Luckily, soil pH can be adjusted fairly easily but it does take a little time. 

  • If the soil is too acidic you just need to add some lime or other high calcium mineral.  This can be in the form of bone meal (ground up bones), ground egg shells, ground oyster/clam shells, wood ashes, or mineral forms of limestone.  The finer ground the material the faster it will raise the pH.  It is best to test your soil in the fall and lime it then so it can go to work over the winter.  The liming material needs to be tilled into the soil so that it is well mixed and has maximum contact with the acidic soil.
  • If the soil is too alkaline the most common materials to acidify the soil are Sulfer and Aluminum Sulfate (available at garden centers).  I'm not a big fan of putting either of these materials in my garden though because they are most often by-products of industrial processes so who knows what else is in it. The more natural way to lower the pH is by incorporating acidic organic materials.  These include, but are not limited to, coffee grounds (worms love them), composted pine (especially the needles), composted oak leaves, ground up acorns, and peat moss.
Most pH imbalances and nutrient deficiencies can be corrected by digging in copious amounts of natural compost.  I will write an entire posting on compost, probably more than one.  My wife will verify that I am something of a composting addict.  By using lots of compost I never have to use chemical fertilizers or pesticides in my garden.  I use compost to feed the soil organisims and they take care of the plants' needs.
When it is dry you will probably need to use water from your house.  If you have a well, no problem.  But if you are on city water (clorinated) like me, you can de-clorinate it for free.  All you need to do it fill a couple buckets with water and let them sit out in the sun for a day or two.  Sunlight will help remove the clorine from the water.  After a day or two it will be almost chemical free.  The other thing you can do is scrounge or buy some plastic 55 gallon barrels or drums and make a rain barrel.  All you need is to place one under a down spout and you can collect free rain water for your garden.

Search Amazon.com for rain barrel kits

That's it for today, happy gardening (food growing)!

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