Feb 172015
 

by Avis Licht

An organic gardener’s success is based on a few basic necessities. I think the health and quality of one’s soil is right at the top of the list. After that comes sufficient sunlight, appropriate water and healthy plants.  Today I want to talk about some simple ways to fertilize your garden and improve your soil’s growing  capabilities.

Compost and mulch make a beautiful cover for the sil

A beautiful garden grown with compost, manure and mulch

An organic fertilizer refers to a soil amendment derived from natural sources that guarantees the minimum percentages of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. These include plant and animal by-products, rock powders, seaweed, inoculants, and conditioners.  These minimum amounts can be very small. For example, horse and cow manure  often have less than 1% nitrogen by weight. This is not to say it’s not a good fertilizer, it is. But depending on your plant’s needs, you may need to add other sources of nitrogen.

One word of caution. An organic fertilizer means it comes from natural materials, BUT it doesn’t mean it’s organic.  Cottonseed meal comes from a plant, but cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops.  There will be pesticide residues in cottonseed meal unless it specifically says it comes from organic cotton.  Bloodmeal and bone meal take a great deal of production and energy to produce these fertilizers. Plus you don’t know how the animals were raised. It can seem very complicated to stay fully organic. When possible ask for the source of your fertilizer.

We take a short break from our program to let you know about this important news. The Spring Garden Made Easy, by me, Avis Licht, is now available for all you enthusiastic gardeners that want to get your Spring garden planted with the least possible problems. Yes, now you too, can have the Garden of Eden in your back or front yard. Or maybe a few lettuces and tomatoes. It’s all in this 20 page ebook, with easy to follow suggestions.  Links in the book will lead you to much more detailed information.  Try it, you’ll like it. Only $4.99.

Spring Garden Made Easy

This is the cover to my book.

Spring Garden Table of Contents

 

Different manures have different nutrient values based on the animal, what it ate, how much bedding is in the manure and so on. In another post I’ll talk about the relative merits of different manures. For now, let’s just agree that manure from herbivores that is composted, is a good organic fertilizer. I say herbivores, because we don’t want to use poop from meat eating animals like dogs, cats or humans.  There is risk of parasites or disease organisms that can be transmitted to humans from meat eating animals. For ease of listing, here are Vegetable fertilizers: alfalfa meal, cotton seed meal, green manure, sea weed, wood ash. Animal by-products include: manure, blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, feather meal and bat guano. Mined minerals include: rock phosphate, green sand, gypsum.

compost bin

Compost bin for a family of 4 – 6 people

The easiest fertilizer is compost that you make at home from material in your yard.  But it takes a LOT of material to make a little compost. You’ll probably have to bring in compost or topsoil when you first start your garden. This is not terrible, it just costs money and uses outside resources.  Sometimes we have to do that.

Soil amendments are materials that don’t have a minimum amount of nutrient, like compost.  They can be worked into the soil or laid on top. Amendments are important for the humus they add, the tilth, and aeration of the soil. Without proper soil aconditions, it doesn’t matter how much nutrient you put in.  Roots need air, water and microbial activity, which all comes from adding organic amendments.

Mulch is material laid on the surface and does not add nutrient to the soil until it breaks down over time. Mulch protects the soil from compaction, erosion and keeps the weeds down.  It also conserves water. Even though we don’t call it a fertilizer, it’s a very important part of the garden and soil and plant health.

The Four Major Elements to Fertilize Your Garden:

1. Nitrogen: For Vegetative Growth:  Bloodmeal, Cottonseed Meal, Liquid Fish, Fish Meal, Pelleted Fertilizers, Feather Meal

2. Phosphorus: For Flowering and Fruiting: For fruit, flower, and root development. Use Soft Rock Phosphate. You can also use Bone Meal.

3. Potassium: For Vigor and health. Use Sulfate of Potash or Greensand.

4. Calcium and Trace Minerals: For Health and Resilience: Almost all soils test low in Trace Minerals. Add Compost, Kelp Meal

In previous posts I wrote about legumes, which fix nitrogen and wood ash.  Keep coming back, as I’ll go through the whole list of fertilizers. In the mean time, dig up your beds, or sheet mulch them, and then add compost and/or composted manure.  You’ll be off to a good start.

Mar 152012
 
Blood Meal

It says "All Natural" but where did it really come from?

by Guest Blogger Extraodinaire- Robert Kourik, author of Your Edible Landscape Naturally

As organic gardeners, we’re always looking for natural and non-harmful ways to add nutrient to the soil to aid in plant growth.  One of the most important nutrients and one of the hardest to find in organic form is Nitrogen.  Nitrogen encourages leafy growth and fruit and seed production. As plants grow, they take nitrogen out of the soil and it needs to be replaced.  But how? Growing nitrogen fixing plants is one of the best ways to restore it in the soil.  But this takes time.  Compost and manures, which are also excellent for the plants, have relatively small amounts of nitrogen.

Blood meal is a fast-acting, high nitrogen, organic fertilizer. It is concentrated and often thought of as “hot”, meaning  too much can hurt tender root hairs or roots. Often just a light sprinkling is enough.  It can have a nitrogen content of 12.%, 1.00% phosphorus and 0.60% potassium. It can also attract dogs, racoons, possums and other meat eating animals that will dig up the garden beds. Blood meal, as you would expect, is a byproduct of the animal butchering industry. It takes a lot of energy to create blood meal in the form we use it in the garden. We also don’t know how the animals were raised.  So it’s a bit of a stretch to call it “all natural and organic” in the way we want it to be safe and harmless to nature.

By knowing what blood meal is and where it comes from, you can make an informed decision about whether to use it or not.

You can save energy by growing a legume crop solely for the accumulation of nitrogen in the lumpy nodules located on its roots—fertilizer gathered free from the nitrogen in the air. Legumes that produce enough nitrogen for hungry crops (like corn) are  alfalfa, fava beans, clover and peas. Till under the young foliage before it blooms—called green manuring. This will increase the yield of crops without using blood meal. Use green manuring of any legume in any annual vegetable bed.

You can read more about fertilizers and everything else you might want to plant in the edible landscape in Robert Kourik’s book, Designing and Maintaining your Edible Landscape Naturally, at his website: www.robertkourik.com

 

Hellebore

An early flowering, easy to grow plant- Hellebore

Mar 132012
 
Compost and mulch make a beautiful cover for the sil

by Avis Licht

Compost and mulch make a beautiful cover for the sil

A beautiful garden grown with compost, manure and mulch

An organic fertilizer refers to a soil amendment derived from natural sources that guarantees, at least, the minimum percentages of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. These include plant and animal by-products, rock powders, seaweed, inoculants, and conditioners.  These minimum amounts can be very small. For example, horse and cow manure  often have less than 1% nitrogen by weight. This is not to say it’s not a good fertilizer, it is. But depending on your plant’s needs, you may need to add other sources of nitrogen.

One word of caution. An organic fertilizer means it comes from natural materials, BUT it doesn’t mean it’s organic.  Cottonseed meal comes from a plant, but cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops.  There will be pesticide residues in cottonseed meal unless it specifically says it comes from organic cotton.  Bloodmeal and bone meal take a great deal of production and energy to produce these fertilizers. Plus you don’t know how the animals were raised. It can seem very complicated to stay fully organic. When possible ask for the source of your fertilizer.

We take a short break from our program to let you know about this important news. The Spring Garden Made Easy, by me, Avis Licht, is now available for all you enthusiastic gardeners that want to get your Spring garden planted with the least possible problems. Yes, now you too, can have the Garden of Eden in your back or front yard. Or maybe a few lettuces and tomatoes. It’s all in this 20 page ebook, with easy to follow suggestions.  Links in the book will lead you to much more detailed information.  Try it, you’ll like it. Only $4.99.

Spring Garden Made Easy

This is the cover to my book. 

Spring Garden Table of Contents

 

Different manures have different nutrient values based on the animal, what it ate, how much bedding is in the manure and so on. In another post I’ll talk about the relative merits of different manures. For now, let’s just agree that manure from herbivores that is composted, is a good organic fertilizer. I say herbivores, because we don’t want to use poop from meat eating animals like dogs, cats or humans.  There is risk of parasites or disease organisms that can be transmitted to humans from meat eating animals. For ease of listing, here are Vegetable fertilizers: alfalfa meal, cotton seed meal, green manure, sea weed, wood ash. Animal by-products include: manure, blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, feather meal and bat guano. Mined minerals include: rock phosphate, green sand, gypsum.

compost bin

Compost bin for a family of 4 – 6 people

The easiest fertilizer is compost that you make at home from material in your yard.  But it takes a LOT of material to make a little compost. You’ll probably have to bring in compost or topsoil when you first start your garden. This is not terrible, it just costs money and uses outside resources.  Sometimes we have to do that.

Soil amendments are materials that don’t have a minimum amount of nutrient, like compost.  They can be worked into the soil or laid on top. Amendments are important for the humus they add, the tilth, and aeration of the soil. Without proper soil aconditions, it doesn’t matter how much nutrient you put in.  Roots need air, water and microbial activity, which all comes from adding organic amendments.

Mulch is material laid on the surface and does not add nutrient to the soil until it breaks down over time. Mulch protects the soil from compaction, erosion and keeps the weeds down.  It also conserves water. Even though we don’t call it a fertilizer, it’s a very important part of the garden and soil and plant health.

In previous posts I wrote about legumes, which fix nitrogen and wood ash.  Keep coming back, as I’ll go through the whole list of fertilizers. In the mean time, dig up your beds, or sheet mulch them, and then add compost and/or composted manure.  You’ll be off to a good start.

Mar 072012
 
spring flowers

by Avis Licht

spring flowers

Flowers, trees and shrubs love wood ash spread lightly around the base

Just like humans, plants need food to grow well. Where we use protein, minerals and carbohydrates for fuel and growth, plants need nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and a slew of micronutrients. Over the next few posts, I’ll be writing about different organic amendments. Before you add to the soil it’s important to know at least something about your own soil. Since most of us don’t  know what is in our soil, here are a few  ways to figure out a little about your soil.

You can buy a soil testing kit at your local nursery, or online at Gardener’s Supply. This is a simple and easy to use kit to find out the basics of your soil needs including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Existing plants, also known as weeds, are a good indicator of soil health and type. If you have lush plants, that are green and healthy looking, you can probably deduce that you’ve got fairly good soil. If plants seem small and stunted, this could mean several things. Compacted soil, low nutrient level or lack of water are the main culprits. This article on Weeds as Indicators of Soil Conditions will tell you much

more about plants as indicators.

Spring Garden Made Easy

 Here’s my new ebook on starting your Spring Garden. 20 pages to help you figure out where to put, what to put in it, and how to keep it healthy.

 

 

 

For those who use a wood stove, wood ash is a free and excellent source of nutrients for the garden.  There are some caveats, so listen up.


Wood ash as fertilizer

Lightly spread wood ash around your plants

 

1. Wood ash is a source of potassium, lime and trace elements

2. Since wood ash is derived from plant material it contains most of the 13 essential nutrients that soil must have for plant growth.

3. When wood burns, nitrogen and sulfur are lost as gases, but calcium, potasium, magnesium and trace elements remain.

4.After wood burns it has liming agents which raise the pH, this neutralizes acid soil. That means if you have acid soil as in the Northwest of the United States, adding ash wood reduce the acidity.  This is good news for some plants and bad news for others. Read on.

5. If you have acid loving plants like blueberries, rhododendrons, azaleas and gardenias you don’t want to use ash around them

6. Do use ash on flower beds, fruit trees, lawns and shrubs.


7. The fertilizer value depends on the type of wood you burn.  As a general rule hardwoods like Oak produce 3 times more ash per pound of wood and contain 5 times more nutrients than soft woods like Douglas Fir.8. Use one half to one pound of ash per year for each shrub or rosebush.

9. Don’t leave ash in lumps or piles, it can leach too many salts in one place.

10.Use wood ash in compost piles to help maintain the best environment for micro organisms.  Spread a little ash out in layers between adding weeds and kitchen waste to the pile.

11. Don’t use as on newly germinated seeds, it has too many salts for little plants.

(If you are reading this in your email because you are subscribed to my blog, you may want to click on the title and read it in my website.  You’ll have access to all the other posts AND My Book! the Spring Garden Made Easy.)

Wood ash in metal container

Be sure your ashes are cool and in a non flammable container

Dec 142011
 
blueberris grow in many climates and are beautiful, delicious and healthy
blueberris grow in many climates and are beautiful, delicious and healthy

Blueberries are one of the most prized plants for the edible landscape

Blueberries are one of the best plants you can choose for your edible landscape. They are easy to grow, beautiful in all seasons, and give absolutely delicious and nutritious fruit. By growing your own organic blueberries you can be sure they are the best and the safest.

There are a few things you need to know about blueberries and your climate in order to choose the best variety for your garden. I’ll make it simple here, but if you’d like to know more be sure to watch this video on planting and choosing your blueberries.

First of all you need to determine your growing zone. You can do that by typing your zip code into this USDA chart or  the Sunset Garden book also offers growing zones by zip code here for the United States.

USDA Hardiness Zones:

The zones vary based on type.

  • Northern highbush : Zones 4-7
  • Southern highbush : Zones 7-10
  • Lowbush : Zones 3-6
  • Half-high : Zones 3-7
  • Rabbiteye : Zones 7-9

All blueberries like acidic soil, similar to conditions that suit azaleas and rhododendrons. You can add peat moss to your soil to lower the pH (4.5 – 5.5). You should also use
Shrubs Alive!TM acid food and fertilizer.>  Blueberries have fine surface roots, which should not be disturbed by cultivation. I like to heavily mulch my blueberries with sawdust. This protects the roots, keeps the soil moist and the weeds to a minimum.

Blueberry turning scarlet in winter
Blueberries provide interest in the landscape in all seasons

There are several kinds of blueberries.  Highbush blueberries grow upright  between 5 and 6 feet tall. They require winter cold and their fruit ripens from late spring to late summer. Most high bush varieties grow in colder climates. Northern highbush grow in zones 4-7. Southern varieties grow in zones 7-10.

Lowbush blueberries grow in Zones 3-6. As the zones suggest, these are very good for cold places. These grow only 6-18″ high. They have underground runners. Find the right varieties in your local nursery or order from catalogs for your zone
icon.

There is another variety called half -high. Half-High mixes the benefits of highbush – large fruit – with the benefits of lowbush – cold tolerance.

Finally there are rabbiteye blueberries. Rabbiteye grows in Zones 7 to 9. These can grow over ten feet tall.

In addition to acidic soil, blueberries need full sun, well drained soil and continuous moisture for best fruit production. Although some varieties are self pollinating, it is better to have at least two different varieties for best fruit production.

It is simple to prune blueberries. On older plants cut back the ends of twigs to strong buds. Remove some of the oldest branches each year and any dead or weak shoots.  This gives the plants more air and light.

Pick the fruit when it is a dark blue. Like these:

Blueberries are delicious and really nutritious

It doesn't get much better than this. Blueberries - ahhhhh!

The health attributes of the blueberry are many, but really we eat them because they are sooooo goood. I urge you to find a place in your garden for this most wonderful of plants.

 

 

Oct 102011
 
Rain brings nitrogen into the soil

Soft light rain through our oak trees. (click to enlarge)

 In California we have a long, dry summer. When the rains come in the Fall it is truly time for rejoicing. But, the rain isn’t just water, it’s also incredibly useful fertilizer. You may have noticed that your plants really perk up after a rain. Much more so than just using your irrigation system.

Rain makes plants rejoice

Lettuce seedling in the rain

The largest single source of nitrogen is in the atmosphere.  However, plants are unable to use nitrogen as it exists in the atmosphere. Nitrogen from the air (N2) enters the nitrogen cycle through several unique types of microorganisms that can convert N2 gas to inorganic forms usable by plants. Some of these microorganisms live in the soil, while others live in nodules of roots of certain plants. Rain droplets pick up nitrogen in the air and through mineralization increase the available nitrogen in the soil in a form that the plants can readily use.

All that just to say, we really love the rain.  Of course, nature is much more complicated than that. Pollution in the air can cause acid rain, which is not a good thing for your plants.  You can read more about nitrogen here.

The  process which converts  atmospheric nitrogen into plant available nitrogen needs moist soil and warm temperatures.  In order for the rain to penetrate into your soil you need to make sure your soil is loose, not compacted and preferably with mulch or compost added to the surface.

Plant seedlings in the Fall for harvest over the winter

Kale seedling in the rain

Healthy soils, make healthy  plants, make healthy people.

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