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Using wood ashes and manure tea.

I make no claim to professional horticultural knowledge. My knowledge is the self-taught, practical type. I read everything I find concerning gardening, discount most of what sounds feasible and interesting. That's how I learned about wood ashes and manure tea.

My experience has been that almost all vegetables profit from the alkaline effect of wood ashes on our naturally acid soil. Mulches of compost, hay and leaves add to that acidity and so it stands to reason that an added alkaline substance can help this problem.

If you have wood ashes and the accompanying disposal problem, scatter lightly on all your garden beds and around fruit trees through the winter. Do this systematically so that one spot does not get overloaded.

Get rid of nutgrass

Wood ashes serve another purpose in our Southern acid-soil gardens. Nutgrass can be a problem impossible to deal with short of fumigating the soil with an expensive and lengthy process, which I will not do. But nutgrass does not tolerate an alkaline atmosphere. So spread your ashes generously on your nutgrass patches and they will dwindle to nothing. This is a hint I picked up from a very old Organic Gardening magazine and tried only two years ago. It worked! Some really bad areas of nutgrass are now completely under control.

Ashes not only "sweeten" our acid soil, but add valuable potassium, or potash, the third number in the fertilizer trio as in 10-20-10 or 12-12-12. This element gives the plants vigor and aids in disease resistance.

The middle number is phosphorus which helps develop strong stems and roots and good leaf and flower color. Bone meal is a good natural additive to supply phosphorus. The first number in the fertilizer trio is nitrogen and a good, easy-to-use source is manure tea. This is a homemade growth and color booster that is an organic gardener's standby.

A 30-gallon teapot

My "teapot" is a 30-gallon galvanized garbage can with a lid. A plastic can will work until it freezes in the winter and cracks. Since my can is never completely empty, the galvanized can is worth the investment. I put in a couple of shovelsful of any kind of manure and fill with water. I have used chicken, which smells worse; rabbit, which does not dissolve very well; horse, if it is fresh, or cow or sheep. I use the dry kind that comes in the bag because there are no animals around right now.

After brewing a week or two, the sharp initial smell will mellow into that good fertilizer fragrance that all adddicted gardeners love. The tea will be a dark rich color, almost black, and should be cut about half and half to water all your individual plants--little seedlings in cups, transplants, houseplants and hanging pots.

As the water level drops, add water to the brew and as the color becomes lighter, use full strength. Maybe once or twice a year add another shovelful of manure. When the residue builds up enough to be removed, just put it in your garden rows or around special shrubs and start over. An exciting rich green color will be evident within a day or two of use.

Using manure tea

So the little cabbage and collard and broccoli seedlings in cups need a healthy lift. I'll loosen the dirt around them very carefully with a kitchen fork and slowly soak with the rich brown tea. They are about ready to be planted in the garden rows, and this pre-soaking will give the tiny roots a good start in their new wide world.

We here in the Southern area of our country are very fortunate to have a generally temperate climate and the chance to garden and produce food the year around. The work goes on year around, too, but the fall and winter work is easy and satisfying.

Gardening in winter

It's regrettable so few of our gardeners take advantage of the healthful vegetables that can be grown through the winter. Lettuce, cabbage, collards, mustard, turnips, carrots, broccoli and multiplying onions are all staples in the Southern winter garden, all chock-full of vitamins and minerals and sweet with the flavor and crispness of frost-touched nights.

Plan your winter garden with the spring planting in mind. When it is time to plant potatoes in the middle of February, and corn and green beans by the 1st of March, the garden you planted in the fall will still be going strong. These beds can be cleaned and made ready for the early April plantings of the summer standbys.

So the cycle begins again, never really breaking, but continuing to produce the goodness of the Earth with our loving care and faith and attention to the things it needs.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ferguson, Mary C.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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