Environmentally sound garden practices for the family garden
I remember taking a soil class at Umass 15 or so years back and hearing my professor say,
“the answer to almost any question I ask this semester will likely be add organic matter to the soil. If the problem is nutrition, drainage, pH, disease & insect problems, etc… the solution often can be solved with the addition of organic matter.”
Soil needs organic matter for the following reason: moisture retention, aeration, microbial life, slow release fertilizer, etc….
So now you know it, how do you do it? Most people know about composting (see my composting blog for more details http://hilltowntreeandgarden.blogspot.com/2011/03/dirt-on-dir.html) but as a busy parent this can be too much work for too little return. Here is what I often do (you will not read this stuff in a book but it really works):
1) When you and the kids pull weeds just lay them back down on their side on top of the soil. They will die, become mulch and slowly return the nutrient they have taken from the soil.
2) Have the children rake up piles of your grass clippings and put them down as mulch. Providing you do not wait until the grass is 2′ tall it will have few weed seeds. By the fall it will be semi-decomposted and ready to be worked into the soil.
3) Add some leaves (ground if possible) to the beds. If it’s a perennial bed add them to the top as mulch & if it’s a veg bed use as a mulch then work it in in the late fall.
4) Keep all plant matter in the bed. Why take the peony stalks away only to bring in bark mulch later? Why not just chop your bean stalks back into the soil or save them for a springtime mulch?
5) Cover crop (for veg gardens only). A cover crop is a seed of an annual plant that you broadcast onto the soil. It grows very quickly & then you turn it back into the soil. My favorite is buckwheat which i just pickup at Hadley Garden Center.
Part of the reason these kinds of tips will not be in Martha Stewarts next book is because it can look a bit dishelved. So if you are aspiring to be on the front page of Better Homes and Garden the above tips are not for you. But if you are a laid back Hilltowner and a busy parent who is trying to grow some stuff it will look fine to you. And have noticed that your 8 year old pile of vegetable scraps has amounted to only one and a half wheelbarrows of soil during this time (this was me)? If so then try the above 5 tips to increase the organic matter of your soil.