Friday, December 26, 2014

Increasing Tilth


     The holiday season is past and our minds immediately turn to garden plans and other Spring endeavors. We are blessed to have relatively fertile soil for the area we live in, so much of the land here is burned out due to ignorance about soil amendments and crop rotation. Our soil is clay loam and we began increasing tilth as soon as the garden was turned for the first time. Improving soil obviously benefits the gardener by increased sizes and yields and it is an easy labor. The first thing to understand is how essential nitrogen levels are, nitrogen is the building block of plant structure, having a deficiency in this area with give you stunted, yellowish plants. Some of the organic methods we've used to raise nitrogen levels are:

  1.  The addition of  composted manure (we use composted horse manure from the stable where our daughter rides).
  2. Growing plants that boost nitrogen such as beans and peas. We will avoid planting corn especially because it depletes the soil rapidly. We tried a test plot of corn last year and the results were disappointing.
  3. Adding coffee grounds, either composted first or washed grounds directly. Washing first ensures that you aren't changing the pH and making your soil more acidic, obviously if you want to change the pH then don't wash the grounds first. 
  4. Plant borage, I haven't tried this one but it would work for a cover crop (as would oats or rye) that you till back into the soil.
     Improving soil organically is a process, not an event. Every year you will see soil improvement, changing from a clay color to the deeper richer black the denotes optimum fertility.

     In more immediate news, the sap will begin rising shortly and we'll be tapping again! Though we have more taps to put in this year than we did last year, it will still fall dismally short of what we used to do. You can read about that here and here, but it's a skill that we value and want to keep alive for the children. Because we won't have the quantity that we're used to my thought is to store the sap in the freezer until we have enough to fill the cast iron pot and then boil it down outside and finish in the house. That's the tentative plan anyway. Immediately on the heels of syrup season will be a brief window and then early garden things can be planted. My garlic is doing well and I think I'm going to divide my comfrey into 3 plants instead of the behemoth it currently is. I'm excited to begin the life cycle all over again, it never grows old. 

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