Soil-sense Intervention

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Meager morning harvest. Was this really it? I was already on the path of knowing I needed to improve my soil, but this was a total eye-opener. Even these few offerings from the veggie garden aren’t as healthy looking as they should be. I realized recently that I’ve been gardening the same backyard for ten years now and somewhere along the way I forgot that soil upkeep doesn’t happen with an application of leaf mulch twice a year.

I’ve always known that the soil is where it matters most in the garden. Regardless of the quality of plant or seed or the amount of sun and rain, if you don’t stay on top of building and maintaining the health of the soil, you’re losing.

At some point, I got lazy. That’s the truth of it. I could give the typical excuse of “life” getting in the way and all that bull, but really it was pure laziness. And then last week a book that has been on my shelf for two years finally caught my attention—The Third Plate by Dan Barber.

Just 100 pages in and there have already been so many poignant quotes that have made me say, “DUH, Jenn. DUH.” Gah.

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It’s embarrassing, really, to acknowledge here that at some point I lost all sense when it came to the soil of my gardens. After that pitiful morning harvest, I started thinking back to just a few years ago when I would go out on a similar morning and come back with my big ol’ antique colander and shirt full of tomatoes, peppers of all sorts and sizes, piles of herbs, eggplants with depths of purples so beautiful it became my favorite color. I would make sauces and salsas, cook and freeze, share with friends, coworkers, and family, and still have more.

It wasn’t just the abundance either. You could taste the difference in each variety of tomato, pepper, and eggplant. There were flavor and textural variations, as intended. I think I first noticed two years ago a drop off of not only production but quality. Did I do anything? Put out six inches of leaf mulch twice a year and hoped for the best. Stupid.

Today, I started the fix. With a weather forecasting rain for the next few days, I figured it was a good time to get some nutrients into that soil. By the way, this is what the skies looked like even with a 90% chance of rain for the day…

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But anywaaay, I know weather prediction will never be perfect or spot on, so I got out there to work. First thing, I put out a big bag of mushroom compost. Pulled what was left of the leaf mulch and some of the scrappy, dry dirt away from around the trunks of my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and herbs, and filled in with a hearty moat of the compost. I know it’s not ideal to apply the compost in this way, but the hope is that the rain will work it in and the worms I know are still down there will come up to pull it down.

After doing this around all of them and going through the mushroom compost and a bag of cow manure I forgot I had, I put down a fresh layer of leaf mulch and watered it all in. This is my idea of a patch in hopes of salvaging some flavors and production. I also started more long term repairs.

Finally got a compost bucket going again. I used to always have one and it was easy and obviously rewarding. Again, laziness took over. No more. I set up the bucket right down off the back deck, which is right where the kitchen is, so all kitchen scraps will now go into the compost pot. Luckily, I found a 30 gallon black plastic pot under the front deck that still had some previous composting attempt in it. Already rich with worms, I added some leaves and grass clippings and will start to add those veggie bits. Getting back on the right path seems doable now.

I know that there are the fancy-schmancy compost bins you can buy, but an elevated bucket that drains has always worked for me. It’s big enough to make good compost, but not so big that I won’t want to work it correctly.

My other longer term plan is to plant clover or beans or some other nitrogen-fixing cover crop. That will make a big impact for the next growing cycle. I am also doing more research into crop rotations that will improve the soil in a specific area for the planting following it.

I’ve had a soil-sense awakening because of a book. It’s overdue, but I’m relieved that it happened. My gardening practices needed an intervention, and as I get back on track to improving my garden soil, I’ve found a renewed interest in learning as much as I can about soil and the microbial life that is right below our feet. It truly fascinates me. For some people, it’s the galaxies above. For me, it’s the intricate universes below.

 

 

 

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No Patience Girl Strikes Again: Garden Edition

Not only does patience evade me in the kitchen, it is also nowhere to be found when it comes to the garden.

We had our first coolish snap here in North Florida this past weekend and while at my favorite local nursery, Native Nurseries, I couldn’t resist picking up a few starter packs of veggies for the fall/winter garden. It’s the right time to start seeds, but a little risky on the small starter plants because we are guaranteed another heat wave before the weather truly breaks.

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But I just could not say no to those little four packs of cabbages and broccoli. I needed them. They needed me. It was mutual, so it happened. I chose “Red Acre” cabbage, “Golden Acre” cabbage, and “Belstar” broccoli.

(That Poohtea Bucket was made for me by a creative friend to brew manure compost tea in for my veggies. Don’t you just love it?)

They also had an endangered native called Brickellia cordiformis “Flyr’s Nemesis” which is a big time butterfly favorite, so I obviously had to add that to my purchases. Although rare in the wild, it’s supposedly easy to grow and propagate, so I’m optimistic in trying it. Here’s what the blooms will look like when they open…IMG_8629

 

 

 

As I was heading to checkout before I could grab anything else, an unusual bloom caught my eye.

wpid-wp-1442362242206.jpgWhat was that lavender-ish, spotted lovely? Oh, a Dotted Horsemint (Mondarda punctata)! Another Florida native that I did not have in my yard…yet. Picked up a gallon size pot of that because I love all beebalms and headed home.

The weekend itself got away from me, so I didn’t end up getting them into the ground until this afternoon. Recently, after seeing some pictures of my harvests from last year compared to this year’s summer harvests, I knew it was time to amend my soil. Overall, I have great dirt from years of leaf mulch and garden rotations, but it was clearly time to give it a boost. I want big production for fall/winter. I’ve got plans for those veggies. The freezer is already full of homemade veggie and chicken stocks ready for soups!

I gathered up the cabbages and broccoli and placed them with a general idea of what else would be added in the weeks ahead. For each starter plant hole, I mixed in two scoops of mushroom compost, a good dose of Jobe’s Organic fertilizer, and watered them in with Moo Poo Tea (which is the best stuff ever). If that doesn’t give them the best chance ever? I don’t know what will. Even better, it’s supposed to rain tomorrow and the next day. Nothing, nothing at all, beats all natural rain after planting.

As the baby veggies settle in for the night, I’m busy looking through my seed collection which has now reached 14 packets including this weekends additions…

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Did I not mention that I also bought more seed packets while at the nursery? Whoops. I did.

Clearly no patience girl is here to stay. I can pretend that baking has helped slow me down and taught me to do things in order, but the fact is, I can’t be stopped. I need all the foods, all the plants, and all the words (I may or may not have another shipment of books on the way as well) right now!