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Fertilizer

May 16, 2011

It's time to add gypsum to my garden soil again

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My soil is heavy clay and this is the second year I've added gypsum to break up the clay and make it more friable. Gypsum alone has profound beneficial effects on soil because of its chemical effects. Gypsum is used to improve sodic soils, to create more favorable solute concentrations in soil, especially after leaching with heavy rainfall, and even to correct subsoil acidity. The combination of gypsum and organics can result in biological improvement of soil more than can organics alone. This is an extremely important aspect of soil quality.

The need for gypsum and other amendments is urgent in the Intermountain West and other arid and semi-arid areas. If you live in these regions you should know that Gypsum contains both calcium and sulfur; each is an essential plant nutrient; however, calcium does much more than its role as a plant nutrient. Without it in a soluble form, soils would not be tillable. Without it in soluble or exchangeable form, other plant nutrients would not function properly. Soils usually contain considerable calcium in the soluble and exchangeable forms. Some soils also contain large quantities of calcium in the form of lime, but that form is not readily available to plants nor can it improve soil when existing as lime. When soil pH is over 8, the calcium in soil is not soluble enough to be of maximum value for either plants or soil. Large crop responses can be obtained to gypsum when soil pH is high and even under other circumstances.

A word of caution. Gypsum is a mineral and although all minerals are organic, some gypsum is mined in China and sold cheaply here. Better to find local or gypsum mined here because no one knows the quality of gypsum from China.

At Espoma Organic Traditions Garden Gypsum - 5 lb Bag #GG5

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April 14, 2011

Earthway Hand Operated Spreader/Seeder for seeding and fertilizing

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The Earthway spreader/seeder is ideal for broadcasting all types of grass seed; it works equally well for ground cover, as well as for the application of fertilizer. The Earthway features convenient spring-action rate setting control and a high-rpm gearbox, which provides a smooth, feathered-edge broadcast. It comes with a zippered nylon bag and a wide, shoulder strap to make extended use more comfortable. The oscillating shut-off plate prevents clumping and aids in flow control.

At Earthway 2750 Hand Operated Bag Spreader/Seeder

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March 18, 2011

It's time to test your soil before spring planting!

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If your garden soil is now thawed and you're itching to get your fingers in the dirt and start planting, I am with you completely. But it might be a good idea to do some soil testing before you start filling up the rows. There are many different levels of soil testing, sometimes even going so far as to send samples to a lab for results.

A soil test measures which elements (phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, sulfur, manganese, copper and zinc) have their nutrients available within the sample. The quantity of available nutrients in the sample determines the amount of fertilizer that is recommended. A soil test also measures soil pH, humic matter and exchangeable acidity. These analyses indicate whether lime is needed and, if so, how much to apply.

Because soil composition changes very quickly it is a good idea to test the soil as soon as possible after taking samples. You also have to be careful about the composition of the water used in the soil test as the ph of the water can affect the outcome of the test. Distilled water might be the best choice rather than faucet water.


At Luster Leaf 1601 Rapitest Soil Test Kit

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February 18, 2011

Kellog's Gardner and Bloome soil conditioner--a disappointing mix

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I bought a 3 cubic foot bag of this product from my nursery and opened it to find exactly what I don't like about so many soil building, fertilizing, or soil amendment products. There was a generous use of wood chips for filler. And this bag had the nerve to call itself also "compost" when real composting of this product would take another year!

I'm using it anyway, mixing it in with the well composted steer manure I bought from the same nursery and I'm sure over time it will decompose and be useful as a soil amendment but as it is it was a huge ten dollar disappointment, I checked out the website for Kellog's organic products, thinking it might be a subsidiary of Kellog's cereals, but this is a family owned business since 1925 and has been organic from the beginning. The website has a utube videa touting the wonderful properties of Organic Gardner and Bloom. This product has according to the information provided composted Red wood, forest humus and bark fines screened to a uniform 1/4" minus size. The compost is further blended with Chicken Manure, Worm Castings, Bat Guano and Kelp Meal. Oyster and Dolomite Limes are added as pH adjusters (pH=6.5).me products. It sounds great! Unfortunately, the screened to a "uniform 1/4" minus size is a pretty big exaggeration.

Here is what I found in my bag:

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February 17, 2011

Bat Guano has a long history of being used for fertilizer

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The Inca were the first peoples to use and regulate bat guano for fertlizer. Guano is a name applied to both bat and sea bird droppings which accumulates to great depth in caves and on islands in the Pacific. I never used bat guano until it started appearing in nurseries in both big and small bags a few years ago. "The Incas assigned great value to guano, restricting access to it and punishing any disturbance to the birds with death."

It's importance as a fertilizer was widespread in the 1800's and the US passed the Guano Islands Act in 1856 giving citizens discovering a source of guano the right to take possession of unclaimed land and entitlement to exclusive rights to the deposits. That's how important it once was. But by the end of the 19th century, the importance of guano declined with the rise of artificial fertiliser. And now it has made it appearance again and I have used it the past few years with great success in the garden.

However, a commentor on this blog wrote that bat guano was dangerous and that maybe the organic world had gone crazy to be promoting such fertilizer. I appreciate comments like that which make me dig a little deeper for information. As a result, I came up with information on Histoplasma capsulatum or histoplasmosis. This disease is caused by a fungus found throughout the world. It is endemic in certain areas of the United States, particularly in states bordering the Ohio River valley and the lower Mississippi River. It also common in caves in southern and East Africa.

H. capsulatum grows in soil and material contaminated with bird or bat droppings. The fungus has been found in poultry house litter, caves, areas harboring bats, and in bird roosts (particularly those of starlings). The fungus once inhaled into the lungs can germinate and then transform into budding yeast cells which cause flu like symtoms. Histoplasmosis is not contagious and can only be contracted by inhaling the fungus.

So it is relatively rare although I also found there is a budding industry of bat removal and the clean up of droppings of bats and birds to avoid personal contamination.

Where does that leave me on using it as a fertilizer? I think I will handle the guano more carefully in the future, but I don't think the danger is immanent enough to stop using what has become a great help to me in the garden. I have never used it as a foliar spray but when used in a water based mix and sprayed on the leaves of plants, it is a fungicide. Figure that out! I might also look for the word, composted, on the package as the high heat of composting would kill any bacteria or fungus.

At Dr. Earth 726 Bat Guano

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February 8, 2011

Gardeners Steer Manure is the best buy!

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Now you'll be lucky if your nursery carries this brand of steer manure. Mine does! I just bought three more sacks of it because it is the best I have found. The steer manure is really composted and doesn't have a bunch of filler to add bulk and weight without any nutrients.

Many of the brands I have tried are really disappointing. Even the high end bat guano which, is suppossedly high nitrogen, comes mixed with bark chips. Gardeners is finely screened and has no visible fillers. It looks like really good quality compost and smells sweet. I've looked online and can find no resource which sells it, but Lowe's advertises it so I would look there to find it.

My nursery had a 2 cubic foot bag for $2.59. A real bargain! Lowe's has one cubic foot for $1.25.

At Lowe's

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September 22, 2010

The cover crop goes in as the first rain approaches

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I started spreading the cover crop today. A fall mix from Territorial seed. It looked good enough to cook and eat. I couldn't find my broadcast spreader, so I just spread it by hand as the winds picked up and clouds move in from the Northwest. It's such a good feeling to have the first rains coming. It marks the beginning of change of the season.

There are two falls in here in California. A dry fall and a wet one. The dry fall is parched and the crunch of dry leaves and rattle of seed pods, the wind through dusty leaves is a reminder to keep up the constant effort to bring water to the yard and garden. Once the rains come, everything changes. You can turn the sprinklers and the drippers off and just sit back and relax. The fire season is over and it's cooler and time to get some wood in.

I was going to till in the cover crop as it does attract birds, but decided instead to rake and shovel a little dirt over the seeds and see if that does the job. There were a few bare spaces and the corn and tomato rows which will need more and I assured myself I would pick up some more ground cover from the local nursery.

Now! Let it rain!!!!

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September 21, 2010

Antibiotics in our food put us at risk for infections

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This article from the NYTimes has to do with the factory farming of animals and although this blog is about gardening, I think it is important enough to include in a post. Just like factory farming of plants uses chemicals and pesticides and heribcides, basically poisoning the environment, so factory farming of animals over uses antibiotics.

These medicines are used to keep the newly weaned piglets from getting sick. This is a danger because they are held in crowded pens and have to stand in their own excrement until the pens are washed out and then the waste goes into local watersheds. People who live near the factory pig farms complain about the smells and the contamination of ground water.

The pigs are then given antibiotics to make them grow faster. The FCC is getting ready to limit the use of antibiotics in factory farming. One look at those pig pens and I can say I wouldn't want to eat any of that pork. The arguement for its use is that you can produce meat faster and cheaper this way. But faster and cheaper may not be healthier. Immune resistant antibiotics are created this way and pose a risk to humans, besides getting a dose of antibiotics with your meal.

At Antibiotics in meat

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September 17, 2010

Celebrating Soil!

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My garden soil looks great this time of year. I just had visitors who commented on how rich it looks which pleased me immensely. It takes a lot of work to keep the soil friable and easy to work. I've put in fifty pounds of gypsum and plan to add fifty more. Then I'll start the ground cover so it can germinate and get some good growth before it freezes. What weeds havn't been pulled will be tilled under, but this year I've done a good job of keeping weeds out. The second self sowed row of cilantro is coming up nicely and the kale has geminated and is growing. The broccoli is putting out more "broccolini" than I can eat. I had to load up my visitors with it. And then there's the faithful corn and tomatoes, beans and peppers still pumping out vast amounts of ingredients for gazpacho, ratatoui, stirfry, grilling, and steaming.

And all of this is comes from the soil which I work so hard to maintain by adding compost and manures and tilling in green manures(which also includes the weeds I till under during the growing season). I was reading Organic Bytes and it had this quote from the book Vegetarian Myth

the living world is complex, and beholding it should leave us all aching with awe. So start with topsoil, the beginning place. Remember, one million creatures per tablespoon. It's alive, and it will protect itself if we stop assaulting it. It protects itself with perennial polycultures, with lots and lots of plants intertwining their roots, adding carbonaceous leaves, and working together with mycelium, bacteria, protozoa, making a new organism between them, the mycorrhiza that talks and nourishes and directs. "Defend the soil with your life, reader: there is no other organism that can touch the intelligence of what goes on beneath your feet. "So here are the questions you should ask, a new form of grace to say over your food. Does this food build or destroy topsoil? Does it use only ambient sun and rainfall, or does it require fossil soil, fossil fuel, fossil water, and drained wetlands, damaged rivers? Could you walk to where it grows, or does it come to you on a path slick with petroleum?"
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August 30, 2010

The dilemna of the fall cover crop is finally solved

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I usually plant a fall cover crop in September and spent some time trying to decide which plant to use. I planted Berseem Clover several years in a row and had good luck with it. It puts a lot of nitrogen in the ground when tilled under and doesnt grow so high as to be unmanagable. However, one winter the temperature dipped down to ten degrees and it all died out, leaving the ground bare and vulnerable to leaching and erosion.

Fava beans are very good ground cover. The fix nitrogen also and are hardy down to 10 degrees. Another plus is that they break up nicely when you till them under. However, they sometimes grow as high as six feet tall which makes them difficult to till unless you weed eat them first.

Vetches are legumes and excellent nitrogen fixers. They should be innoculated before sowing. The one reason I stopped using them was the diffuculty in tilling in the spring. They grow tall, sometimes five feet tall and twine around the prongs of the tiller, making it bind up. So much time is spent stopping and unraveling the vines before continuing the work. I think weedeating first would help, and then letting the crop dry and wilt before beginning to till.

That has been my experience with cover crops. This year I'm taking a chance and using Territorial Seeds fall mix which includes vetch, rye, Australian peas, and clover. I'm hoping that some of negatives will balance each other out like the the difference in cold tolerance, and so I will end up with a good crop to till in in the spring. Territorial Seed has a good selection of different cover crops and a great fall catalogue.

At Fall cover crop

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July 19, 2010

Organic produce is proven healthier!

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This article from Prevention Online magazine makes the point that the nutritional value of produce farmed commercially has been declining for years and continues to do so. The reason for this is that commercially farmed produce is not stressed. It is given food and water to encourage fast growth and large fruit. In the process, the nutritional value drops. Organic grown vegetables grow at a more natural rate and because they are stressed, they produce phytochemicals,

Using USDA data, a study found that broccoli, for example, had 130 mg of calcium in 1950. Today, that number is only 48 mg. What's going on? The researcher believes it's due to the farming industry's desire to grow bigger vegetables faster. The very things that speed growth -- selective breeding and synthetic fertilizers -- decrease produce's ability to synthesize nutrients or absorb them from the soil.

"By avoiding synthetic fertilizers, organic farmers put more stress on plants, and when plants experience stress, they protect themselves by producing phytochemicals," explains Alyson Mitchell, PhD, a professor of nutrition science at the University of California, Davis. Her 10-year study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that organic tomatoes can have as much as 30 percent more phytochemicals than conventional ones.

Not only healthier, but organic produce tastes so much better.

So keep up the mulching, composting, and organic fertilizing! And if you can't produce all your vegies, visit the local farmer's market where you can probably get organic produce more cheaply that in the store.

At Prevention Online

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June 29, 2010

A big bowl of strawberries is a feast for the eyes and the palate

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I love strawberries fresh from the garden and eat them for breakfasts on buttered toast or for dessert. They really demand a lot of care. This wet spring has started some fungla diseases on my plants that have never been seen before. I have "strawberry scorch" and my neighbor has some "grey rot". Nonetheless I just picked a quick half gallon of berries and will be eating them for the next few days.

These two fungal diseases can't be cured by organic spray. The disease site I use mentions copper or sulpher spray to eliminate the infection. My grandkids are coming and I'm not about to spray something on the plants that is a heavy metal, so I will use my regular method, which is to pick off dry dead leaves which carry the fungus. Some of the plants are so scorched I think I'll just dig them up. Then fertilize! The organic gardeners solution to most pests and diseases is just that simple. Feed the plants well; the strong and slightly more resistant will live and be the better for it. The really best way to fertilze is to dig a little composted manure around each plant and pick the weeds while you are there. It's time consuming but you will be rewarded with lush healthy plants and tons of berries.

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June 18, 2010

Organic Gypsum does seem the best buy

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A few blogs ago, I talked about buying gypsum to help break up the heavy clay in my garden and I mentioned that since gypsum was a mineral, it seemed unnecessary to buy organic gypsum. A knowledgeable friend of mine has corrected this misconception. He says gypsum from China could have all kinds of contaminents in it and so it is better to buy American and organic to be sure.

Just wanted to make sure to clarify this error of mine which was posted in a previous blog. Here's more information of the use of gypsum as a soil additive.

"Gypsum alone has profound beneficial effects on soil because of its chemical effects. Gypsum is used to improve sodic soils, to create more favorable solute concentrations in soil, especially after leaching with heavy rainfall, and even to correct subsoil acidity. The combination of gypsum and organics can result in biological improvement of soil more than can organics alone. This is an extremely important aspect of soil quality. The combination of gypsum and water-soluble polymers, including with organics, can maximize the improvement of physical properties to soil. The chemical, biological, and physical properties of soil when improved together with gypsum, organics and water-soluble polymers constitute a triangle for major spoil improvement.

The gypsum triangle results in better quality soil - chemically, biologically and physically. The need for gypsum and other amendments is urgent in the Intermountain West and other arid and semi-arid areas. Gypsum contains both calcium and sulfur; each is an essential plant nutrient; however, calcium does much more than its role as a plant nutrient. Without it in a soluble form, soils would not be tillable. Without it in soluble or exchangeable form, other plant nutrients would not function properly. Soils usually contain considerable calcium in the soluble and exchangeable forms. Some soils also contain large quantities of calcium in the form of lime, but that form is not readily available to plants nor can it improve soil when existing as lime. When soil pH is over 8, the calcium in soil is not soluble enough to be of maximum value for either plants or soil. Large crop responses can be obtained to gypsum when soil pH is high and even under other circumstances."*

*THE GYPSUM, ORGANIC MATTER, POLYMER TRIANGLE
Arthur Wallace Wallace Laboratories
365 Coral Circle, El Segundo, CA 90245

So I'm taking back my generic gypsum and trading it in for some organic gypsum.

At Espoma Organic Traditions Garden Gypsum - 5 lb Bag #GG5

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June 15, 2010

Earthworm castings have mulitple benefits for your garden

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If you are trying to reduce your dependence on chemicals and grow healthier garden crops, then earthwom castings will help you do the job. Earthworm castings are terrific fertilizers and also have some natural protection against fungal disease. A whole spectrum of nutrients are found in the castings that you cannot get with an chemical fertilizer.

The castings are usually made using red wiggler earthworms who digest organic material and excrete these tiny pellets filled with the right stuff. This end product is "super humus" which is extremely fertile top soil properly conditioned for best root growth, containing in rich proportion and water soluble form, all the elements required of the earth for optimum plant nutrition because they contain rich proportions of water-soluble nutrients. Worm castings allow plants to quickly and easily absorb all essential nutrients and trace elements in simple forms, so plants need only minimal effort to obtain them.

Another point in favor of earthworm castings is the high concentration of beneficial bacteria and microbes added to them by the earthworm in the digestive process. These microscopic creatures help different elements of the soil work in conjunction with each other to create healthy, working soil that provides the best possible atmosphere for optimum growth. Another benefit is the ability to improve soil structure. It allows for excellent drainage in soil so roots don't become waterlogged or develop root rot, while also increasing the soil's water retention capacity as they contain absorbent organic matter that holds only the necessary amounts of water needed by the roots and their shape allows unnecessary water to easily drain.

Worm castings are also an effective way to repel white flies, aphids and spider mites & any pest that feeds on plant juices. According to recent studies, applying earthworm castings to the soil around your plants increases the production of a certain enzyme that is offensive to these insects.

So what's not to like here. A perfect fertilizer, soil conditioner and pest controler!

At Wonder Worm Worm Castings - 10 liters

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