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Garden ecosystems: a year 'round project.

Most people don't realize how many creatures live in a typical garden. Would you believe that there are more living things, even in a very small plot, than there are people on Earth at the present time--plus all those who have ever lived? We don't see most of them because they're in the soil.

Let's consider a few facts.

A live, healthy, fertile soil can have as much as 7,000 lbs. of microorganisms in the top one foot of one acre. In only one gram of soil (about a thimbleful) there may be as many as one billion of only one of the seven main groups of microorganisms.

Estimate how many grams there are in your garden. Then multiply this number by one billion. But even this fantastic number covers only one species out of the thousands to be found in the soil.

The immense population of living things is a main factor in a healthy, living, fertile soil. This means that if you want this kindof soil, you must manage your soil treatment to increase the total population of all living things in that soil to its highest potential.

Soil management is a year-round process, not something you do only in the spring at planting time. Fall is a good time to get started for the following year, keeping in mind these axioms: a dry soil is a dormant soil; a frozen soil is a dormant soil; a soil without adequate organic matter is a starved soil; a wet soggy soil promotes fermentation; a compacted soil lacks oxygen; predominantly sand or clay soils require more than normal amounts of organic matter.

Method One

Start your soil building program in the fall by tilling into the soil all crop refuse, plus any other available organic material. If you have sufficient compost, cover the garden with one or two inches and over this spread a heavy mulch of leaves, grass clippings, old straw, hay or other organic matter. Allow this mulch to remain throughout winter.

This will help keep the soil at working temperature for the billions of living things who call the soil home. Even during the very cold winter months, the microorganisms will be busy, along with the earthworms, building the soil into a live, healthy, fertile soil. Thus, by the following spring, the mulch at the soil surface has been transformed into rich humus.

As early in the spring as possible, follow one of these two procedures: remove the bulky portion of the mulch and till in the balance along with available compost, raw rock dusts, and other available organic material. Use the mulch that has been removed from the soil for mulch after the seeds have germinated and the plants are sufficiently high.

With this method, you may choose to mark your rows at the proper time in the spring and rake the mulch to the center of the rows which allows the planting area to remain open to the sun and wind to warm up. Then plant your seeds in the usual way without tilling the soil. This may be termed the "no work" method, as it completely eliminates weeds, cultivating, tilling and other usual chores.

Method Two

In the fall till in all crop residues plus available organic matter and plant a suitable cover crop such as rye, wheat, oats, vetch, pigeon pea, or buckwheat. Pigeon pea is a full-season crop and at full cover will amount to as much as 15 tons to the acre. Buckwheat, on the other hand, is a short period crop (as little as 30 days) but a valuable one as the roots go very deep, thus bringing to the top soil minerals that are found at greater depths.

When using a green manure (cover crop), one should bear in mind that such a procedure is a fast, short-term method of fertilizing the soil, as the green material is readily broken down into plant nutrients. The heavy mulch system (Method One) provides an abundance of organic material that is broken down slowly, thus providing plant nutrients over a long period.

In the spring till in the cover crop about two weeks before planting time. About three days before planting, cover the soil with one to two inches of compost or well-rotted manure and incorporate it into the soil.

If the soil is in fairly good condition before embarking upon either of these methods, afterwards it should have enough nutrients to produce an abundant crop of whatever you may choose to plant.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:soil management
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1995
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