Archive for the 'soil preparation' Category

Improve Your Soil Without Chemicals Using Soil Solarization

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Would you like to know  an alternative way to get rid of pesky weeds, pests and some diseases as well? 
The answer  is to solarize your soil.

Solarization is predominantly used in areas that have a lot of sunshine and high temperatures. However, it can be utilised in cooler climates too. The results may not be quite as effective, but it can do wonders in your battle against weeds.

What exactly is soil solarization?
It is a technique that uses no chemicals, but instead captures the sun’s radiant heat and energy which, in turn, causes physical, biological and chemical changes in the soil. These changes include the ability to control or eliminate soil borne plant pathogens including bacteria, fungi, pests, and nematodes along with weeds.

In order to solarize the soil in cooler areas, you need to cover it with a clear plastic sheet for approximately 4 to 6 weeks during a time of the year when the weather is very hot and when the soil will be able to receive maximum direct sunlight for long periods. The soil heats up to temperatures which are hot enough to kill some soil inhabiting pests including root rot fungi, wilt, noxious weed seed and root knot nematodes. Soil solarization also stimulates the release of nutrients from organic matter that is present in the soil. It is very effective in treating garden soils where you intend to plant herbs, vegetables and flowers.

Now that you know what soil solarization is, you may want to give it a try to your soil rather than using different chemicals to control weeds and other pesky little critters!

GARDENING’S MOST VALUABLE ADVICE

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Many people may not be aware that gardening can actually harm the environment.  A large amount of carbon dioxide can be released through tilling the soil.  This contributes to global warming.  When you cultivating and compacting the soil, destroys good fungi.  Fertilizers like nitrogen and manure often leach out of the soil and pollute the water you drink.

Global warming

Did you know that the earth’s soil gives out carbon dioxide in the atmosphere 10 times more than all human activity?  This comes from the pill bugs, microbes, fungi and worms when they breathe, digest food and then die. Although in the past plants have been capable of absorbing carbon dioxide caused by small-scale tillages, this isn’t the case nowadays. 
The increase of the globe’s average temperature is because of the carbon dioxide the soil emits when tilled. The good news is that tilling can be minimized by mulching or sheet composting.

Good Fungi

In untilled soil, there is beneficial fungi known as the vesicular-arbuscular-mycorrhizae or VAM for short. VAM actually forms a symbiotic relationship with plants.  Their filaments increase root hairs and provide nutrients to the plant.  They give out zinc, copper, potassium and phosphorus.  Plants provide carbohydrates for the fungi in return.  It is possible to grow a garden without tilling the soil at all by mulching heavily until the soil is soft and friable.

Surplus Nitrogen

Many gardeners waste nitrogen and manures; farmers do otherwise. Farmers only need a quarter to a third of nitrogen to mix with an inch of compost, horse, or cow manure.  Kate Burroughs of Sebastopol California, uses the same rule for her home-grown lettuce and sweet corns. When it comes to broccoli and pear trees, farmers only need a small amount.  Notice that gardeners apply larger amounts of compost and manure than farmers. Obviously, they are not only wasting their fertilizer but also their money. 

The best gardening advice that can be given to those concerned is to do all things with moderation. Keep in mind that too little and too much of something is not healthy. This is the most valuable advice one can have in gardening.

Preparing Healthy Soil

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Preparing Healthy Soil

If you’re getting ready to go on a new garden venture, you need to prepare
your soil to ideally house your plants. The best thing you can do in the
soil preparation process is to reach the perfect mixture of sand, silt,
and clay. Preferably there would be 40 percent sand, 40 percent silt, and
20 percent clay. There are several tests used by experienced gardeners to
tell whether the soil has a good composition. First you can compress it in
your hand. If it doesn’t hold its shape and crumbles without any outside
force, your sand ratio is probably a little high. If you poke the
compressed ball with your finger and it doesn’t fall apart easily, your
soil contains too much clay.

If you’re still not sure about the content of your soil, you can separate
each ingredient by using this simple method. Put a cup or two of dirt into
a jar of water. Shake the water up until the soil is suspended, then let
it set until you see it separate into 3 separate layers. The top layer is
clay, the next is silt, and on the bottom is sand. You should be able to
judge the presence of each component within your dirt, and act accordingly.

After you’ve analyzed the content of your soil, if you decide that it is
low on a certain ingredient then you should definitely do something to fix
it. If dealing with too much silt or sand, it’s best to add some peat moss
or compost. If you’ve got too much clay, add a mixture of peat moss and
sand. The peat moss, when moistens, helps for the new ingredient to
infiltrate the mixture better. If you can’t seem to manage to attain a
proper mixture, just head down to your local gardening store. You should
be able to find some kind of product to aid you.

The water content of the soil is another important thing to consider when
preparing for your garden. If your garden is at the bottom of an incline,
it is most likely going to absorb too much water and drown out the plants.
If this is the case, you should probably elevate your garden a few inches
(4 or 5) over the rest of the ground. This will allow for more drainage
and less saturation.

Adding nutrients to your soil is also a vital part of the process, as most
urban soils have little to no nutrients already in them naturally. One to
two weeks prior to planting, you should add a good amount of fertilizer to
your garden. Mix it in really well and let it sit for a while. Once you
have done this, your soil will be completely ready for whatever seeds you
may plant in it.

Once your seeds are planted, you still want to pay attention to the soil.
The first few weeks, the seeds are desperately using up all the nutrients
around them to sprout into a real plant. If they run out of food, how are
they supposed to grow? About a week after planting, you should add the
same amount of fertilizer that you added before. After this you should
continue to use fertilizer, but not as often. If you add a tiny bit every
couple of weeks, that should be plenty to keep your garden thriving.

Basically, the entire process of soil care can be compressed into just
several steps… ensure the makeup of the soil is satisfactory, make sure
you have proper drainage in your garden, add fertilizer before and after
planting, then add fertilizer regularly after that. Follow these simple
steps, and you’ll have a plethora of healthy plants in no time. And if you
need any more details on an individual step, just go to your local nursery
and enquire there. Most of the employees will be more than happy to give
you advice.

Nutrient Management In The Garden

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

Apply only the nutrients plants can use.

Twenty nutrients have been identified that are required by plants.
Of these, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are required in
relatively large amounts. Nitrogen is associated with lush vegetative
growth, adequate phosphorus is required for flowering and fruiting,
and potassium is necessary for durability and disease resistance.
Calcium, sulfur, and magnesium are also required in comparatively
large quantities. These six nutrients are referred to as macronutrients.
The other nutrients, referred to as micronutrients, are required in
very small amounts. These include such elements as copper, zinc,
iron, and boron. While both macro and micronutrients are required
for good plant growth, over-application can be as detrimental as a
deficiency. Over-application of plant nutrients not only may impair plant
growth, but may contaminate groundwater by leaching through the soil
or pollute surface waters by washing away.

Soil testing

Testing your soil for nutrients and pH is important to provide your
plants with the proper balance of nutrients while avoiding over-
application. If you are establishing a new garden , a soil test is
strongly recommended. The cost of soil testing is minor in comparison
to the cost of plant materials and labor. Correcting a problem before
planting is much simpler and cheaper than afterwards. Once your garden
is established, continue to take periodic soil samples. While many people routinely lime their gardens , this can result in raising the pH too high.
However, since many fertilizers tend to lower the pH, the pH may drop
below desirable levels after several years, depending on fertilization and
other soil factors. Home tests for pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium
are available from garden centers. While these may give you a general
idea of the nutrients in your soil, they are not as reliable as tests performed
by the Cooperative Extension Service at  land grant universities. University
and other commercial testing services will provide more detail and you can request special tests for micronutrients if you suspect a problem. In addition
to the analysis of nutrients in your soil, they often provide recommendations
for the application of nutrients or on adjusting the pH. The test for soil pH
is very simple– pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline your soil is.
A pH of 7 is considered neutral. Below 7 is acidic and above 7 is alkaline.
Since pH greatly influences plant nutrients, adjusting the pH will often
correct a nutrient problem. At a high pH, several of the micronutrients
become less available for plant uptake. Iron deficiency is a common
problem even at a neutral pH on such plants as rhododendrons and
blueberries. At very low pH, other micronutrients may be too available,
resulting in a plant toxicity. Phosphorus and potassium are tested
regularly by commercial testing labs. While there are soil tests for
nitrogen, these may be less reliable. Nitrogen is present in the soil in
several forms and the forms can change rapidly. Therefore, a precise
analysis of nitrogen is more difficult to obtain. Most university soil test
labs do not routinely test for nitrogen. Home testing kits often contain a
test for nitrogen which may give you a general idea of the presence of
nitrogen, but again, due to the various transformations of nitrogen, the
reading may not be reliable. Organic matter is often part of a soil
test. Soil organic matter is highly desirable. Organic matter has a large
influence on soil structure. Good soil structure improves aeration and
water movement and retention. This encourages increased microbial
activity and root growth, both of which influence the availability of
nutrients for plant growth. Soil organic matter also affects the availability
of plant nutrients and how pesticides react in the soil. Soils high
in organic matter tend to have a greater supply of plant nutrients
compared to many soils low in organic matter. Organic matter tends
to bind up some soil pesticides, reducing their effectiveness. Tests for micronutrients are usually not performed unless there is reason
to suspect a problem. Certain plants have greater requirements for
specific micronutrients and may show deficiency symptoms. Iron
deficiency is common on blueberries, unless the soil is quite acidic. On
these plants, the younger leaves will usually show signs of the deficiency
first. The areas between the veins will be yellowish while the veins remain
green. Other plants growing in the same soil will show no signs of a
deficiency. In this case, altering the pH will often correct the problem.

Taking a soil test

1. If you intend to send your sample to the land grant university in your
state, contact the local Cooperative Extension Service for information
and sample bags. If you intend to send your sample to a private testing
lab, contact them for specific details about submitting a sample.

2. Follow the directions carefully for submitting the sample. The
following are general guidelines for taking a soil sample.

a. Sample when the soil is moist but not wet.

b. For each acre of land to be tested, 10 to 15 sub-samples are
recommended. Areas that appear different or that have been used
differently should be sampled separately. For example, a separate
sample should be submitted for an area that has been in a garden
and one that has been lawn.

c. Obtain a clean pail or similar container.

d. Clear away the surface litter or grass.

e. With a spade or soil auger, dig a small amount of soil to a depth
of 6 inches.

f. Place the soil in the clean pail.

g. Repeat steps d through f until the required number of samples
have been collected.

h. Mix the samples together thoroughly.

i. From the mixture, take the sample that will be sent for analysis.

j. Send immediately. Do not dry before sending.

3. If you are using a home soil testing kit, follow the above steps for
taking your sample. Follow the directions in the test kit carefully.

Fertilizers and soil amendments

Once you have the results of the soil test, you can add nutrients or soil
amendments such as lime, as needed. If you need to raise the pH, use
lime. Lime is most effective when it is mixed into the soil, therefore it is
best to apply before planting. For large areas, rototilling is most effective.
For small areas or around plants, working the lime into the soil with a
spade or cultivator is preferable. When working around plants, be
careful not to dig too deeply or so roughly that you damage plant roots.
Depending on the form of lime and the soil conditions, the change in pH
may be gradual. It may take several months before a significant change
is noted. Soils high in organic matter and clay tend to take larger amounts
of lime to change the pH than do sandy soils. If you need to lower the pH significantly, , you can use aluminum sulfate. Other commercially available fertilizers will also help lower the pH. In all cases, follow the soil test or manufacturer’s recommended rates of application. Again, mixing well into
the soil is recommended. There are numerous choices for providing
nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If your soil is of adequate fertility,
applying compost may be the best method of applying additional nutrients.
While compost is relatively low in nutrients compared to commercial
fertilizers,  it is especially beneficial in improving the condition of the soil.
By keeping the soil loose, compost allows plant roots to grow well throughout
the soil, allowing them to extract nutrients from a larger area. A loose soil
enriched with compost is also an excellent habitat for earthworms and
other beneficial soil microorganisms that are essential for releasing
nutrients for plant use. The nutrients from compost are also released slowly
so there is no concern for “burning” the plant with an over-application.
Manure is also an excellent source of plant nutrients and organic matter.
Manure should be composted before applying. Fresh manure may be too
strong and can injure plants. Be careful when composting manure. If left
in the open, exposed to rain, nutrients may leach out of the manure
and the runoff can contaminate waterways. Make sure the manure is
stored in a location away from wells and any waterways, and that any
runoff is confined or slowly released into a vegetated area. Improperly
applied manure also can be a source of pollution. For best results, work
composted manure into the soil. If preparing a bed before planting,
compost and manure may be worked into the soil to a depth of 8 to 12
inches. If adding to existing plants, work carefully around plants.
Green manures are another source of organic matter and plant nutrients.
Green manures are crops that are grown and then tilled into the soil.
As they break down, nitrogen and other plant nutrients become available.
Green manures may also provide additional benefits of reducing soil
erosion. Green manures such as rye and oats are often planted in the
fall after the crops have been harvested. In the spring, these are tilled
under before planting. With all organic sources of nitrogen, whether
compost or manure, the nitrogen must be changed to an inorganic
form before the plants can use it. Therefore, it is important to have
well-drained, aerated soils that provide the favorable habitat for the soil
microorganisms responsible for these conversions. There are numerous
sources of commercial fertilizers that supply nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The first number on the fertilizer analysis is  the percentage
of nitrogen, the second number is phosphorus, and the third number is
the potassium content. A fertilizer like 10-20-10 has twice as much of each
of the nutrients as a 5-10-5. How much of each nutrient you need depends
on your soil test results and the plants you are fertilizing. As was mentioned
before, nitrogen stimulates vegetative growth while phosphorus stimulates
flowering. Too much nitrogen can inhibit flowering and fruit production.
For many vegetables, a fertilizer higher in phosphorus than nitrogen is
preferred such as a 5-10-5.

Fertilizer application

Commercial fertilizers are normally applied as a dry granular material, or
mixed with water and watered onto the garden. If using granular materials,
avoid spilling on sidewalks and driveways. These materials are water
soluble and can cause pollution problems if rinsed into storm sewers.
Granular fertilizers are a type of salt, and if applied too heavily on
plants, they can burn the plants. If using a liquid fertilizer, apply directly
to or around the base of the plant. For the most efficient use and to
decrease the potential for pollution, fertilizer should be applied when
the plants have the greatest need for the nutrients. Plants that are not
actively growing do not have a high requirement for nutrients. Therefore,
applications of nutrients to dormant plants, or plants growing slowly due
to cool temperatures, are more likely to be wasted.  Generally, nitrogen
fertilizers should not be applied to most plants in the fall in regions of the
country that experience cold winters. Since nitrogen encourages vegetative growth, if it is applied in the fall it may reduce the plant’s ability to harden
for winter. In some gardens, fertilizer use can be reduced by applying it
around the individual plants rather than broadcasting across the entire
garden. In the case of phosphorus, much of the fertilizer phosphorus
becomes unavailable to the plants once spread on the soil. For better
plant uptake, apply the fertilizer in a band near the plant. Do not apply
directly to the plant or in contact with the roots.

Feeding Your Plants

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Just like people, plants have their own particular requirements and it is not the best policy to assume they all need the same feeding.
Some plants need a lot of attention whereas others require very little.

You can actually harm the growth of your plants by feeding them too much.
Once again there needs to be balance in the garden.
If you feed your plants too much fertilizer that is high in nitrogen you might get a lot more foliage but a reduction in the fruit or flowers that the plant will produce.

This is because the plants will be using that nitrogen as energy to grow faster rather than produce more fruit or flowers.

Plants are always giving us signs of their food requirements or if they have been stressed.
They will wilt, or they might change color, or their leaves might curl up and drop off.
If there is something wrong with a plants nutrition it can often be seen quite easily.
It is just a matter of reading these signs and knowing what is going on.
As all plants are different, to fully understand the requirements of the particular plants or trees that you are growing you need to get information specific to those plants.

If you find signs of stress in your plants you should take samples to the local nurseries of the leaves and any abnormalities that you might notice in the soil.

There might be signs of mold in the soil, which could suggest too much water, and the roots of your plants might be rotting.

If the leaves of your plants are turning yellow on the other hand they might be suffering from a shortage of water.

The three most important elements in the soil of plants are nitrogen; for the promotion of leaf and stem growth.
Phosphorus; for the root growth and Potassium; which helps in the growth of flowers and fruits.

If you find there are any deficiencies in these areas then additional nutrients will need to be added to the soil.

Feed for Your Plants

Monday, October 8th, 2007

The best time to start feeding your garden is in spring.
At this time of the year the ground is still moist from the winter and early spring rains.

As the ground warms up with the hotter spring weather you get ideal growing conditions in your garden.

This is a crucial time for growth in the garden and you will need to ensure that your plants have the necessary nutrients to benefit from this period.

The small feeder roots that will be developing will seek the nutrients that you need to supply them.

By choosing the correct foods for your plants they will have better foliage, they will be stronger plants and will also have more abundant flowering.

There are three key factors that are needed in a balanced plant food and they are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

A plentiful supply of nitrogen will ensure that your plants have healthy foliage.
Phosphorus improves the plants root health and potassium will encourage the plant to bloom and fruit.

As you can see they are all needed for the overall health of the plants and you should always check on the packaging of the fertilizer to see whether the chemical analysis is suitable.

These fertilizers usually come in three forms – controlled release, liquid and soluble.
Controlled release formulations have the nutrients inside a semi-permeable membrane that allows the nutrients to be released into the soil in a controlled manner once it reacts with the soil moisture and temperature.
One application can last months and it is ideal for containers and indoor plants and established plants and trees.
Liquid formulations are similar to the soluble ones but they have been mixed with water and can be sprayed on the plants leaves for rapid response.
Soluble formulations and applied dry and dissolve once the area receives water, which will dissolve the salts and make the nutrients available for the roots of the plant.

All applications have their benefits and you need to decide which is best for the plants you are feeding.

Compost a Gardeners Delight

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Isn’t it amazing that all that waste food that we can’t or don’t want in the kitchen is such a good food source for the plants in our garden.

What makes it better is the fact that we can grow vegetables in our gardens, cook and eat them, and whatever we don’t use goes back into the garden to make the next lot of vegetables grow better and healthier than ever.

Compost not only helps to feed your plants by improving the quality of the soil but it can also control diseases in the garden.

You can create compost simply by throwing all your waste on a pile and waiting for it to rot, however this can take quite a long time if the compost pile is quite large.
The rotting process is aided by keeping the heap moist and this might require watering in hot climates.

Having the compost in an enclosed container can help to retain the heat, which will speed up the process.
It is possible to buy specific containers that are made for fast composting and apart from the fact that they will keep your yard looking a lot tidier, you will get the benefits of using the compost sooner and there will be less ‘bad smells’ in your garden.

Contained composts are also a lot better at keeping vermin out which can become quite a problem with uncovered waste on your property.

Some of the premium compost containers can be rotated, thereby giving you access to the compost at the bottom of the container, which is ready for use without having to dig through the fresh waste at the top.

This convenience will ensure you have quality compost that you can use as soon as it is ready rather than waiting months for the contents to rot.