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Posts Tagged ‘Grow Your Soil’

taking a soil testOver the years, whenever anyone asked me for advice on organic gardening, my response has always been Feed the Soil and Build the Ecosystem. Often they were expecting recommendations on what amendment or pest control product to use. However, you need to look at the whole system, rather than addressing symptoms of imbalance as they pop up. Now that permaculture is becoming more widely publicized, whole system management is more well known

Feed the Soil—Now is a good time to take a soil sample. I send my soil samples to Waypoint Analytical, formerly A & L Eastern Labs. If you are not good at interpreting the results that they send you, you could contact John Beeby at www.growyoursoil.org for organic fertilizer recommendations. Check with his website for which test to request and where to have it done. You will need to sample the soil from many places in your garden, then mix everything together for your sample to send in. The soil you see in the photo looks really good, but remember that I have been working on my soil for many years.

Correcting imbalances in your soil is the first thing to do if you are not receiving the results you want in your garden. Sometimes, well meaning actions can lead to imbalances, including adding a lot of manure to your garden every year without testing first. Sometimes people lime every year because they assume it is a good thing. It is only good if your garden needs more lime. Even if you do not do a soil test each year, you should have one to use as a baseline, then do one a couple years later to see how things are going. Make cover crops a part of your soil building efforts. The organic matter they add with their roots, and with the plant matter you harvest and use as mulch or compost material, is a tremendous benefit.

Build the Ecosystem—Well-nourished soil cannot go it alone in producing good crops. Malnourished plants will attract insects that will take them out, for sure. However, even well- nourished plants need pollinators. Also, if there are any insects munching your plants, you want to have beneficial insects taking up residence in your garden to eat them. In order for the beneficials to stay, there needs to be some other insects around as food. Buying insects to add to your garden is not as effective as attracting and naturally growing your own,

Chemicals, even those approved for organic production, can harm beneficial insects, as well as the not-so-desired ones. Furthermore, you have to acquire and apply the chemicals. If you include plants that attract the good insects into your crop mix, all you have to do is to stand back and watch the show. That’s what happened when I planted mountain mint, as well as other plants in the margins of my garden. I had visitors to my garden this summer who stopped in their tracks and asked the name of the plant when they saw all the buzzing around the mountain mint. It was an insect frenzy! Tansy is also well-documented as attracting beneficial insects.

goldenrod with honeybees and butterflies

Goldenrod with honeybees and butterflies.

The best time to witness beneficial insects on your plants is between 10am and 2pm in your garden. Goldenrod grows up in the wild areas of my garden if I don’t cut it down through the season. Since I am getting interested in natural dyes, I cut some for a dyepot recently. When I went out with my clippers, there were so many insects buzzing around it that I backed off. I did take some where there was little action going on, but left the rest to the beneficials.

leatherwing on spearmint

Leatherwing on spearmint.

You can also experience all this by letting some of your regular garden plants, such as basil, flower and go to seed. Spearmint, which can take over if you are not careful, attracts many beneficials if you let it flower. I like to have celery come back each year and go to seed. On the way to making seed that I save for culinary use and replanting, the flowers attract an array of good bugs–and all I have to do is watch it happen. Besides the insects you see in these photos, you will see bumblebees, wasps, beetles, spiders, and more in your garden if you allow it to happen.

Assasssin bug babies

Assassin bug babies.

Learn to identify insects you find in your garden so you don’t freak out and destroy the good ones you see that might surprise you, such as the assassin bugs in this photo. I found this young family on my cowpea plants. Although I’ve found ladybugs on other plants, my favorite ladybug photo is one I took on a cowpea plant of a ladybug eating an aphid.

ladybug eating an aphid

Ladybug eating an aphid.

To attract many of these good insects, you need to have permanent plantings. Weedy fencerows can provide  habitat. Not tilling all your garden at once will help, as well as having permanent paths. A border with permanent plantings will provide overwintering habitat. These things will enhance the year-round beauty of your garden and will be less work for you in the long run. The book Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham is a good reference to consult if you want help deciding what to plant to attract specific insects to help with certain pests.

Now is a great time to make your 2018 garden plan to ensure that you plant the desired cover crop, considering what your following crop will be, in each bed for next year. I locate my compost piles on my garden beds and rotate them, along with my other crops to contribute to soil fertility. The advantage of that is evident in the crops that follow. Managing your plantings to attract and maintain beneficial insects in your ecosystem will create a garden that is a joy to be in.homeplace earth logo

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