Going Green Starts with Organic Soils
I love the renewed interest in people doing their own vegetable and home orchards, if you will, in these tougher economic times. I'm just sad it came because of the economy as opposed to self-sufficiency which was the call for the day many years ago. If you'll recall back in WWI and WWII, they used to be named Victory Gardens. Maybe we can call these the Financial Victory Gardens. But, please be careful. People can end up (needlessly, I might add) spending way too much money to build a vegetable garden, then come out with 5 tomatoes on three different transplants, which if you averaged it out can cost you 10 dollars a pound, when you factor in the soil, the fertilizer, the mulch, the cost of the transplant and if you tilled the area added supplements etc.
But since the biggest mistake most people make is in the soil, we can counter that mistake, make it worth your while and make it organic to boot. Here it is January and February are the two best months to build the beds, since it's still a little too early to be planting anything outside. However, the best advice is always to build them before mid February and let them rest a few weeks, before the planting season begins in late February. Letting the soil rest or actually "mellow" will prevent transplant shock on many new plants that you introduce to the garden be it by seed or by transplants. It's basic gardening success in that all gardening success starts with good soil. And since we don't have naturally have good soil here in Houston, we have to manufacture it. The beauty of building the right beds with the right material means you are actually starting on an organic foot.
To me, here at the top four reasons you want to do your own vegetable or herb garden.
1. Nothing taste as good as a home grown tomato, right? So, you do it for the taste/flavor.
2. You get to try varieties you would never find at a grocery store.
3. If you're going organic you know it's pesticide/herbicide free.
4. Then, you grow to save money and/or make money.
You can make money, if you sell at farmer's markets; you can save money if you learn how to preserve.
(However, to truly "make money" this is where you need to have a big old half-acre garden with rows of 20-30 feet of plants which can't be done in most backyards here. And that's when it becomes more than a hobby, rather a full-time job.)
Building the Beds Organically: The best vegetable beds organic or not start with 75% Rose Soil to 25% Compost people have different ratios they swear by, but it's usually 3 parts rose soil to 1 part compost some will do 4 part Rose Soil to 1 part Compost.
We are blessed with two local companies that make the best Rose Soils and have darn good composts as well. Living Earth Technology started the Rose Soil craze some 15 years ago. Nature's Way Resources has perfected it. They both have bulk locations all over Houston and they both sell their products by the bag too. Other names to look for at garden centers for soil and compost are Lady Bug Natural, based out of Austin and Soil Menders based out of the Panhandle.
Living Earth Technology www.LivingEarth.net
Nature's Way Resources www.Natureswayresources.com
Lady Bug Natural www.ladybugbrand.com
Soil Menders www.soilmender.com
NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER plant a Vegetable Bed in POTTING SOIL!!!
Even if you're doing vegetables or herbs in containers, don't use POTTING SOIL!!!
You can make your own mix and you can make your own compost over time too. Rose Soil is simply equal thirds of Loam/Soil; Sand; Humus/Compost. So if you have your own compost pile, then mix 1/3 compost to 1/3 Loam/Soil (which is dirt cheap pun intended) and 1/3 Sand, and that's a great starting point. 20 years ago, most people would have to make their own Garden Mix/Rose Soil, but today all those companies I've listed before have Rose Soil in the bulk or by the bag.
Building the beds isn't that complicated: Just make 'em at least 10-12 inches deep in your soil/compost mix. Lock that soil in with landscape timbers, cinder blocks, any random pieces of lumber you can find, landscape stone, moss rock etc. The key is to give the veggie a chance to develop a root system at least 10 inches deep. The deeper the root system, the bigger and stronger the plant will be up top. You may be asking "Randy, can I just build a bed on top of a plat of grass?" Yes, you can! However, I would lay about 10-12 layers of newspaper on top of the grass before I added the soil and compost mix. This just helps keep the grasses from coming back to life. On the flip side, if you have a bare area of dirt, you may also consider laying the 10-12 layers of newspaper just for a weed block as well but It's not necessary on bare dirt. And yes, everything I just talked about applies to container gardening as well. It still has to be good soil and compost and it still has to be at least 10 inches deep.
Feeding the Garden organically: There are so many schools of thought here, and I like it simple. So, if you're going to go organic there are about 4-5 good organic fertilizers. By the way, feeding Vegetables a "synthetic" fertilizer does not offend me. If you have to be a manic organic about it, fine, stick to the 100% organic products. However, the neat thing about organic fertilizers is how they don't have to be applied as often as synthetic ones. Any granular organic fertilizer that has a fairly good "balance" to the numbers is always good for me. I've seen incredible results with Arbor Gate's own personal brand, and I like the lower numbered ones for vegetable gardens, so there's never a chance of burn or never a chance of too rapid growth. Medina's granular is good, NRG is good, Micro Life is good, but once I start seeing numbers 8 and above on the nitrogen I leave those organic fertilizers for the lawn. Oh, by the way, from a liquid perspective if you like foliar feeding the veggie garden, nothing beats Medina Hasta Gro just remember while all the true organic propoenents and experts and godfathers of the field of organics all agree that Medina Hasta Gro is great it is not 100% organic. But it's still the only 1-2-1 mostly organic foliar feed out there, and that shows me that balance I truly desire.
In the future, we'll then talk about 1. The Right Veggie Varieties for Houston. 2. Which Veggies and Herbs Offer The Best Bang for the Buck. 3. Keeping it Organic In Pest Control and Fungal Disease Control.
Until next issue, here's to Great Gardening from the GardenLine, heard exclusively, 6-10 a.m. Saturdays and 7-10 a.m. Sundays, only on NewsRadio 740 KTRH.
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