Happy Soil

Happy Soil
by Denny Morelli
(Notes from a recent talk at Medford Garden Club)

You can’t have good results in your garden if you don’t start with good soil. Top soils are made up of different components including plant and animal residue, moisture, air space and live soil dwelling organisms.

The best thing you can do for your garden is compost, compost and more compost.

Organic content provides food for growing plants, food for bacteria, fungi, earthworms and other beneficial organisms. A total organic content should be at least 6% of the top 4” – 6 “of top soil. It also provides a reservoir for moisture. Organic content also provides temperature stability and weed control.

This water reservoir prevents the tendency of over watering in the summer and the leaching out nutrients in rainy weather. Over watering can be a serious problem as it flushes out nutrients and increases pollution levels in our streams.

The timing and rate of releasing nutrients is important. Organic material helps to control the amount of fertilizer available at any given time. Air space created by the channels made by various organisms provides space for oxygen, moisture and plant roots. Do not rototill. Tilling the soil collapses this delicate structure. It is better to put a layer of 2” – 4” of compost on top early in the spring to let the nutrients sink in.

One problem in planting is that plants are usually planted too deep. Dig the hole, add some compost and plant the plant so it is higher than ground level, creating a small rounded berm. In time it will sink to the level of the ground.

Be careful where you buy compost. Most box store compost may be over a year old and have little nutrients left. Denny’s commercial formula is 40% forest material, including rotted wood, leave, moss and humus; 50% pasture material, including shredded alfalfa, grass and cover crops; 10% dairy goat & chicken manure; and nutrient supplements e.g. seed meal, kelp meal, high protein livestock feed, goat mils and trace elements. Do not use walnut leaves for mulch.

Fertilizers for home gardeners include fish emulsion, which works very fast but needs to be applied often; and Dr Earth, which takes a month to do any good. Be sure to look at the label; a lot of compost has too much magnesium. In the heat of the summer a layer of alfalfa, purchased at a feed store, protects the ground. Denny sells his compost from his farm. Read more here: http://www.ccountry.net/~compost/

Other good sources of compost are Hilton Landscape Central Point and the Grange Coop, who has an excellent compost called Green Planet Compost.

by Emilie Vest