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Posts Tagged ‘mushroom soil’

Small Kitchen Garden Soil-Preparation – 2

My last post provided rationale for working the soil in your small kitchen garden. Sure, you can dig a hole and drop in a seed, and a plant will probably grow. However, conditioning the soil to improve drainage, PH balance, and nutrition significantly increases your chances of success. It also improves the yields of your vegetable plants.

That said, I’m lazy. I’m not excited about spreading manure and I don’t have a power tiller, so my soil preparation has evolved into a minimalist procedure. My raised vegetable bed is large enough that I must walk in it to prepare it, plant it, weed it, and harvest from it.

Extracting a dandelion from your walk-in garden bed employs the same technique you’d use to turn soil: Push the garden fork in to the full depth of its tines, pry the soil out of the ground, and turn it over. When I remove dendelions, I sometimes insert the fork on four sides of the dandelion before prying the plant out of the ground. This loosens the soil and decreases the chance of breaking off the tap root deep underground. After lawnmower noise, my least favorite sound in the garden is the dull thud of a snapping dandelion tap root that runs deeper than my garden fork can reach.

Low-Till Planting

Here are the steps I follow to prepare my raised vegetable bed for spring planting. This approach has been very effective, and it’s most appropriate for modest gardens in which the soil gets compacted from foot traffic through the growing season:

This year I’m using apple sticks (the bounty of pruning season) and pink yarn to mark rows in my garden. I tie the yarn three or four inches above the ground so I can easily work under it with a hoe.

1. Decide where to run a planting row.

2. Turn the row of soil over. I prefer to use a garden fork. I dig a fork’s width swath from one end of the row to the other, plunging the fork in to the full depth of its tines, prying the fork-full of soil out of the ground, and turning that fork-full over so the soil that was on the surface ends up at the bottom of the hole from which I removed it.

3. Remove all weeds and their roots from the soil you turn over, and excavate all other weeds from either side of the row you’re working.

4. Break up soil clumps with a garden rake, and smooth over the surface within the fork-width row.

5. Set a stake at each end of the row, and stretch twine between the stakes. This provides a guide to ensure a straight row so you can accurately match your planting to your plan for the year’s garden.

6. If your garden bed tends to collect rain water, mound soil from between the rows onto the rows, creating six-to-nine-inch berms. By mounding the soil you turn each row into a raised bed that will reduce the chance of excess moisture damaging your crops.

If your garden is on high ground that drains quickly, don’t mound the soil; step 7 will result in depressed planting rows that catch and hold rain water; an advantage especially in a dry year.

Using a low-till method, I’ve turned and raked the soil (top-left) before I cut a furrow about six inches deep and as wide as the hoe. From years of gardening, the soil is in decent shape, but the mature compost on the shovel looks obviously more organic than the soil. Whether using compost or manure, I use a hoe to mix it with soil that I scrape off the bottom of the trench (bottom-left). I’d plant directly in this compost/soil mix (bottom-center), but if it were a manure/soil mix, I’d cover it lightly with soil (bottom-right) before planting.

7. For seeds, hoe the rows into trenches to receive the seeds. For seedlings, dig slightly-larger-than-root-ball-sized holes along the rows in which to set the plants. For seeds or seedlings, dig at least three inches deeper than you intend to plant the seeds or the seedlings; this leaves room to add compost or other humus.

Because the dimensions of trenches and holes vary depending on the types of vegetables you’re planting and—for seedlings—on the condition they’re in, step seven is where planting instructions begin in upcoming posts.

8. Dump three inches of compost, manure, or mushroom soil into the trench or into each hole. If you’re adding sulfur or crushed limestone to adjust the PH for a particular type of plant, do so at this point.

9. Mix the organic stuff with the soil that’s in the bottom of the trench or hole.

Being in a slightly raised planting bed, my garden soil drains quickly. So, I deliberately finish planting rows and holes to be two to three inches below the normal soil level. A plant’s-eye view shows a finished row with young spinach plants just poking through. If my planting bed drained slowly, I’d mound the soil before cutting planting rows or digging holes. Each row would sit above the natural soil level, turning a row into its own raised bed garden.

10. If you’ve used raw organic stuff such as horse or cow manure or mushroom soil (which is partially composted), sprinkle a half inch to an inch of soil over the compost layer; you’ll plant seeds or seedlings on this layer of untreated soil. Providing the cushion gives the roots a chance to get established before coming in contact with rich, possibly acidic humus. Also, heavy watering you’ll do to start seeds and seedlings will leach salts out of raw humus before the roots reach it.

If you’ve used mature compost as the organic matter, plant directly in the mixed soil and compost. The mixture will be equivalent to that of a fine potting soil; a great medium to get new roots growing quickly.

Concerning Raised Planting Beds

What distinguishes the classic raised vegetable bed is that you can work the bed without ever setting foot in it. A traditional raised bed is no more than four feet across so you can reach to the middle from either side. You needn’t build retaining walls to get some of the benefits of a raised bed. If you limit your in-ground beds to four feet across (any length is fine as long as you can walk along both sides of the bed), you’ll be able to work them without walking in them, just as you would raised beds.

Preparing soil in such narrow beds and laying out crops in them allows very different strategies than you’re likely to use in a traditional walk-in garden bed. In an upcoming post, we’ll talk about how to get narrow beds ready for planting, and explore ways you might lay out your vegetables in them.

 

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Prepare to Plant Your Small Kitchen Garden

Manure for a Small Kitchen Garden

I’ll be carting many garbage cans full of horse manure from the stable where my daughter rides to the kids’ abandoned sandbox. Tomatoes will thrive on a rich mixture of fresh manure and sand.

It’s planting time in my small kitchen garden! Actually, the weather this year is not in any hurry for my garden to get started. By mid March, the soil was thawed and workable, but there have been many nights with the temperature as low as 24F degrees. Cold weather crops such as peas, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and onions, could all have gone in in March.

But immediately after the soil thaws, it’s usually quite wet. I get no joy from working in mud. To boot, seeds planted in mid-march may get a head start if the weather cooperates, but they may also languish until April before putting on serious growth. Peas planted here in mid March (hardiness zone 5b or 6a, depending on who you ask), may mature only a week earlier than peas planted in mid April. So, I say, “don’t rush.” Plant cold weather crops when you can work the soil, when it’s dried out a bit, and when it’s not unbearably cold. Oh, and if you wait a few weeks, you give weeds a chance to show themselves so you’re more likely to remove them when you finally do start working the soil.

Basic Soil Preparation

I’m about to post a series about planting various types of vegetables. The procedures for planting any one type are remarkably similar to those for planting other types. In fact, preparing the soil for planting is a sequence of steps that you’ll repeat for everything you plant.

Different types of planting beds allow different styles of soil preparation. As well, a gardener’s experience, enthusiasm, and influences lead to unique preferences. With that in mind, please consider what I say to be suggestions rather than rules. The methods I describe have been effective in my experiences. After that, you’ll have to decide which are right for you.

Mushroom Soil

Pennsylvania grows some 40% of the mushrooms produced in the United States. Commercial growers assemble a growing medium that contains a lot of stuff that’s good for your garden—horse and chicken manure, straw, mashed grapes, and urea, for example. A batch of this mushroom soil is good for growing mushrooms just once.

After harvesting a crop from their secret mushroom soil mix, growers sell the spent soil which eventually becomes available through garden stores and landscapers throughout Pennsylvania. Gardeners love the stuff as mulch, and many mix it straight into their garden beds.

Here’s the trick: mushroom soil, like raw manure, isn’t ideal for emerging plants. If you’re going to use the stuff, you’ll have best results if you spread it on your garden bed when you finish harvesting in the fall. Let it steep over the winter, and mix it into the soil in spring. This gives salts time to leech out of the soil and make it more accommodating to your seedlings.

The bottom line: don’t plant directly in mushroom soil or manure. If you’re applying it fresh in the spring, mix it in well with your garden soil before you plant. Better still, bury it an inch or two below planting depth so the roots of your vegetable plants don’t reach it until it’s had a chance to leech out salts.

Please follow this link for more of the story about mushroom soil: Extension Service Garden Hints: Mushroom Compost – Use Carefully

My next few posts will outline soil-preparation in three scenarios:

1. Traditional in-ground planting beds using traditional methods

2. Low-till planting in traditional in-ground planting beds

3. Planting in narrow beds including raised vegetable gardens

In the meantime, a few thoughts about soil composition:

Soil for Your Small Kitchen Garden

I once heard a master gardener admonish readers never to amend clay-heavy soil with sand. He encouraged people always to add only organic matter to break up clay. I argue that you should cut clay by adding sand. True: humus will help retain moisture, break up clay, and provide nutrition. On the other hand, humus breaks down in time and may leave no trace; in the next season you could be right back where you started.

If I were building a garden bed from scratch and filling it with soil of my design, I’d get a mixture of 40% sand, 20% clay, and 40% silt. I’d layer this soil with organic stuff—ideally, mature compost—but I’d be happy using raw horse manure or mushroom soil (see box).

If I excavated a garden bed, expecting to plant vegetables in my lawn, and I discovered clay, I’d add sand. Sand helps prevent the clay from clumping and improves drainage. I’d also add humus to improve nutrition and keep the worms happy.

However you start out, to keep a planting bed productive you need to add humus each growing season. If your humus-free soil naturally remains loose because it includes a generous percentage of sand, then adding humus is light work compared to that of working in a clay-rich garden bed.

This season, I’ll be reclaiming my kids’ childhood sandbox. The box itself has rotted and collapsed, and the sand has supported an assortment of weeds for the past few years. I plan to cover the sand with six inches of horse manure and blend it as well as I can by hand. Then, I’m planting tomatoes.

 

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