Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
Success-Oriented Vegetable Gardener, Part 1—First,
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! Well, yes, it is a bit early to talk of planting peas in Maine; and no, I don’t believe anyone has spotted robins dragging worms from the ground. No, green isn’t the predominant color in lawns yet. . .fact is there aren’t even any lawns yet!
I don’t know about you but I’m
ready to begin some serious thinking about next seasons' vegetable garden!
But in no time at all the howl of mowers and tillers will fracture the peace, and large clods of muck will be churned
into small particles of garden soil. Well, maybe. Let’s look closely at soil—our garden’s foundation, what makes it “tick,”
and the things gardeners do to nurture—or harm—garden soil.
world's thin, somewhat exhausted and overworked layer of topsoil is really quite the interesting concoction. It’s made up
of itsy-bitsy pieces of sand, clay, organic matter (“humus”), a few chemicals (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and a number of
other “minor” elements), even tiny fragments of our past—rust particles, pieces of old buildings, residues of animals and
people—plus air, water and lots of roots, pebbles, “bugs” and soil micro-organisms. Mixed together and allowed to quietly occupy
its spot with minimal external disruption, soil is literally a living organism capable of supporting varied plant life.
Complications arise when people do something which interferes with the normal scheme of things—plowing,
over-fertilizing, applying dreadfully-dangerous substances to control (or attempt to control) a whole host of insect and disease
invaders. All that, compounded by too little or two much water, fertilizer, tilling and other similar abuses, robs previously-healthy,
vibrant, alive soil of its will or ability to survive. At that point, an ever-descending spiral usually ensues. Because seeds fail to
sprout, plants seem to languish, and vegetables shrivel, pucker and rot, well-meaning gardeners dump on more fertilizer, attack the
rapidly-expanding flocks of bugs with increasingly lethal chemicals...and the very last, almost desperate act is to call the
Cooperative Extension for help. . .or to give up in utter frustration.
Don’t laugh...both you and I have seen it happen—sometimes a little closer to home than we prefer. But it doesn’t
have to be that way! With just a little thought, effort, and coaching from your local expert or library, your vegetable (and flower)
garden can be alive and healthy, producing an abundance of attractive and nutritious crops that will make you and your family happy
and healthy—and make your garden the talk of the neighborhood.
Most vegetable garden plants prefer deep, rich, dark and well-aerated soil. Soil particles need to be very much like
crumbled cornbread and chocolaty-brown in color. Here’s a general guide: go grab a handful of soil from your garden and pinch a
little between your thumb and finger. Does it feel “slippery?” Slippery soil is probably clay and will compact and perform poorly.
Is it “gritty?” Gritty earth is likely somewhat sandy, will remain loose but won’t hold water or nutrition. What color is it?
Pale tan soil is usually exceedingly low in organic matter and must be heavily fertilized to eke out a crop. Gray soil is most often a
relatively poor clay, also with little organic matter and life. A medium brown color normally indicates the occasional addition of at
least some type of organic matter (old manure, compost, leaves, rotted straw) and will usually grow an acceptable crop.
Soil which has been nurtured, loved, appreciated
and kept alive is almost always that deep, chocolaty-brown we
mentioned above. It produces juicy, succulent, vitamin- filled, satisfying and healthy crops. Huge carrots, wonderfully delicious sweet
corn (two or three ears per plant!), abundant and perfect tomatoes, and baskets full of beans, peas and practically everything else
Healthy soil holds moisture
because it’s loaded with organic matter; it doesn’t erode or blow away
loaded with organic matter; it’s easy to cultivate because it’s loaded with organic matter;
it has all the natural fertilizer it
needs to produce a wonderful crop without buying bag after bag of the artificial stuff
because it’s loaded with organic matter;
plants are strong, insect-and-disease-resistant and have a pleasing, healthy-looking color
because the soil is loaded with organic
matter; it can be worked (without repeated bludgeoning with a rototiller) earlier and more efficiently
because it’s loaded with
organic matter. Hey. . .I think I’m beginning to see a pattern here!
Run down this checklist and bring life back into your soil:
Jump to Veggies, Part 2 Understanding what makes up a plant.
|Find your State and County Cooperative Extension Office||Which Maine Hardiness Zone Do I Live In? (.pdf)|
© 10/2007 Hill Gardens of Maine; 107 Route 3, Palermo, Maine 04354. All Rights Reserved. Updated: 08/07/11