Puttering In The Potager – Week 1 of 2010
(Week 1 is January 4 to the 11th)
We’ve all had sufficient time now to break most of the New Year’s resolutions we made at the party. However, I am offering a yardener’s resolution for all of us for 2010. It is a resolution to do something most of us have never done before. I am resolving, for all yardeners, to help improve the quality of the soil on all of our properties in 2010 and thereafter. Notice I didn’t say “we” would improve the soil. Yardeners cannot improve the soil themselves.
It is the billions of soil critters making up the soil food web that actually improve the soil. Our job is simply to feed that network of creatures from the earthworms down to the bacteria and fungi. We feed them, they multiply, and they improve our soil. We don’t feed them, and our soil stays lousy; a real simple contract.
Feeding the soil food web does take a bit of work, some in the spring, maybe a bit in thesummer, and then some in the fall. But what do we get in return? After three or four years of remembering to feed those critters, we end up with soil that drains very well. At the same it retains moisture so we need to water infrequently. The trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables, and lawns all look as healthy as they ever have so fertilizer is seldom needed. And here is the kicker for me; believe it or not there are hardly any more incidents of insect or disease problems, anywhere in the yard.
Now fess up. You have never had soil that good. That is why you have to fertilize, water, and deal with pesticides. Plants living in good spoil feed themselves from the efforts of the soil food web, they need little outside watering, and they themselves can defend themselves against pest insects and disease. All it takes to get this magic is some mulch.
Just mulch! No digging. No rototilling. Organic mulch is food for soil organisms. It does not have to be dug into the soil. The earthworms pull it down and distribute lunch. The very best organic mulch is chopped leaves, if you happen to have some left over from last fall. Next best is a mixture of Canadian spaghnum peat moss and high quality compost; about three or four units of peat to one of compost. Finely shredded bark is the third best material for doing this job.
The goal is to have a two to three inch layer of organic mulch over all the beds and around all the shrubs and small trees all year long; year after year after year. The lawn needs one or two applications a year of those chopped leaves or the peat/compost mix to accomplish the same thing.
I guess my Yardener’s resolution for 2010 is actually to feed the soil food web; they take care of the soil improvement process.