Mulch, Mulch and more Mulch

For the last 3 years, I’ve gotten  of mulch. At first I thought it would be too much but I find lots of good places to put it. Weeding is not something I want to spend much time doing.

I can’t say this system is the end all to beat all but I can say I never need to dedicate time to weeding; I just do a little here and there when I water or walk by. Not having prior experience with gardening, thank goodness I like to read and thank goodness my friends were willing to share their experiences! I took all that wisdom and decided on the plan that worked best for me.

DSCF7678When I create a flower beds, I dug a small trench around the edge of the designated area. See the photo below for an example.

DSCF7686As a weed barrier I have come to prefer cardboard although I started out using landscape fabric. I make sure the barrier lines this trench then I fill it with mulch. It helps to have a hose handy so you can periodically wet the cardboard. This makes it mold to the ground and the weight of the mulch.

At the beginning of the growing season, weed whacking very close to the ground around the edge, then piling mulch on top keeps anything from creeping in from the yard area. Consideration was also given to the type of grass we planted. It could not be anything that “creeped”; I didn’t want it in my gardens or my prairie!!

The areas that are done with cardboard sometimes needs to be raked over and re-cardboarded but I only did that the second year. I haven’t had a need this year, the 3rd year.

In my veggie garden, I use straw and I love it!!!  DSCF7690

It has so many advantages. Aside from the well known benefits, I have learned that it keeps the soil from compacting, when I walk around to water and harvest and during the winter when the snow is thick. I keep a thick layer of straw on the garden when it’s “put to bed” for the winter. When I plant in spring, I remove some off the top, then just move what I need to plant the row and/or the plant. The best straw is the old rotting stuff that the farmers’ don’t want. I keep a compost bin with the straw in it beside the garden so it’s handy.


Weeds are at bay, plants’ roots are happy, and moisture is contained. What’s not to love?

Soil and Chocolate Cake

Just got a dump truck of soil delivered for our raised bed garden. It looks and smells great!

I’ve become intrigued with soil. I realize I’ve been interested in it for some time. I recall as a young un’ a book entitled SOIL that my dad owned. I tried to read it once when I was in grade school. I didn’t get too far into that masters-level college tome, but the idea of reading it never left me. At a recent prairie conference, one of the speakers reinvigorated my fascination.

That speaker mentioned that the goal for healthy soil is to have the appearance of “chocolate cake.”  Perhaps it was the mention of food that really got my attention! His talk revolved about farming practices, but I kept thinking this could all be applied to ecological restoration. I began reading in earnest (and yes, I could understand the books this time!).

These pictures illustrate good soil from bad soil. One is “chocolate cake,” the other, well…… Soil

Soil is complicated. It has to be balanced chemically, biologically, and physically. It has to have good structure (tilth) and texture and it has to provide nourishment to sustain a vibrant group of living entities.

There are almost 90 different chemical elements in the soil, over 50 types of soil organisms, and a variety of combinations of soil texture and tilth. With that many possibilities, I decided to chunk it out and look at those deemed most important.

Chemical aspects include the 10 most important elements to balance, soil pH, and humus and organic matter. Those 10 elements include: boron, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, and nickel. Nitrogen is important for the soil and should be added but less is needed when these 10 are in balance. Soil test provide the data required and fertilizer is the supplement that creates the balance. Soil pH is a measure of the soil’s water content, referred to as alkaline or acidic. Humus and organic matter also provide nutrients for balancing plus they provide them in a slow-release form.

Biological aspects encompass the living organisms, collectively known as the soil life. Generally speaking, that includes bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, and earthworms. Good chocolate cake smells delicious and good soil does too. That aroma comes from a terpene solution excreted by actinomycetes, a type of bacteria.

Physical properties are the particle sizes. Sand is the largest, then silt, with clay being the smallest. Loam is equal parts of sand, silt, and clay. Colloids and aggregates from organic matter give the soil “body” and help to maintain nutrients in a form that can be accessed by plants and soil organisms. According to my reading, good garden soil contains 90% loam and 5-10% organic matter.

This is a very simplified account of soil. The more I learn, the more I want to know. I have found a few books that are very good and, as always, I’ll keep searching for more! Until then, I need to get out there and haul those mounds of “chocolate cake” to my garden!

Soilfoodweb.com — a great website for lots of good info
Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis – a excellent introduction to soil
The Biological Farmer by Gary Zimmer – although geared toward farming, this book has very good info

Root Stimulant or Inoculant?

In my quest to provide a healthy environment for the plants, shrubs, and trees I am planting, propagating, and nurturing, I’ve been reading about soil and soil life. It’s totally fascinating! I know soil health was important but am continually amazed and awed by life and how it works.

We’re getting ready to plant a number of shrubs so rather than apply a man-made chemical, I thought I’d apply some of my new found knowledge. I bought some endomycorrhizal root inoculant (something that produces immunity against disease) and compared it to Ferti-lome® Root Stimulator (something that increases the activity in a body). Here’s what I learned.

Endomycorrhizal fungi are naturally-occurring fungi that invade the cell walls of the roots. It is essential for the health of 90% of all plants, shrubs, and trees and 100% of all grasses. It is not found in sedges. The fungi promote plant vigor; makes it more disease resistant; increases yields; improves the soil; and reduces the need to water and to fertilize. A 1.5 pound container costs $44.00 and at ½-1 tsp per shrub or tree, would treat 250 trees for 18¢ per tree.

Ferti-lome®’s active ingredient is Indole-3 butyric acid (IBA) at .0004% with inert items at 99.9996%. Never learned what was in the inert ingredients. IBA is a synthetic plant growth regulator. It is considered a biochemical pesticide similar in structure and function to the naturally-occurring growth hormone Indole-3 acetic acid. The risks to humans and the environment are negligible but it can be an eye irritant. It costs $9.95 for a gallon and at 3.5 Tbsp per shrubs/tree, will treat 73 trees for about 14¢ per tree.

Of course, these numbers all change if one is planting vegetables or perennials. For about a 4¢ difference, I am applying only natural “ingredients” to my plants that are extremely beneficial to the plant and the soil and have no safety risks. And, I’m not paying a penny for over 99% inert ingredients. I am spending less on watering, less on fertilizing, less on any of the “cides” (insecticide, pesticide, fungicide, herbicide), and getting more abundance from that plant. Sounds like that 4¢ difference is actually cheaper in the long run.

For a good “down and dirty” (HA!!) on soil, check out the book Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis