Category Archives: Gardening

Planting, Growing, Care

Choosing the Right Soil Amendment

Anything that improves the condition of the soil can be called a soil amendment. Mulches and top-dressings also improve the soil, but it’s easiest to use the word amendment or even soil conditioner to refer to anything that is turned into the soil. If something is left on the surface without being mixed into the soil, it’s either a top dressing or a mulch.

I love soil amendments! While you can grow a garden in our soils without amending it, you will find that your plants will flourish, be more productive and be less prone to pest and disease issues then without amending it. A better producing garden is much more fulfilling and less frustrating, agreed?

Soil amendments improve clay soil aggregation, increase porosity and permeability. They improve aeration, root depth and drainage.

In sandy soils, soil amendments increase the ability to hold water and nutrient holding capacity.

When should soil amendments be used? This will depend on what you are using and how broke down the matter is you are using. If most of the material has already decomposed, as with mature compost or well-aged manure, you can add it just days before planting. If you’re using unfinished compost or material that hasn’t yet broken down, such as newly fallen leaves, clean (chemical free) sawdust, or fresh manure, allow at least four weeks before planting. I prefer to add fresh material in the fall so it has all winter to break down into usable form.

There are so many choices of soil amendments. The softer finer materials are best for soil amending (compost, manure, peat moss). Hard materials take to long to break down (wood chips, sticks).

Here is a list of just a few materials that can be used as soil amendments:

Compost: Of course, top on my list would be compost! Whether you make it or buy bagged compost, it is an excellent source of organic matter. Finished compost can be used anytime. Unfinished compost should be turned under in fall or several weeks before you wish to plant. Finished compost should be dark and smell like clean earth. Work in 2-4” of compost to garden beds.

Leaf Mold: Leaf mold is an excellent source of organic matter; can be used anytime. The microorganisms in the soil love this stuff! It will help retain moisture and add healthy tilth. Generally you will have to make it yourself. But this is easily to do. Here is a link how.

Peat Moss: Peat Moss supplies organic matter and will slightly acidify soil (lower pH), so this is excellent for our soils. Be sure to mix peat moss into the soil, as it could repel water if left on the soil surface. Peat moss can hold a lot of moisture making it helpful in drought conditions. Work in 1” of peat moss to garden beds.

Coconut Coir: Coconut coir is a very nice substitution for peat moss. It comes in a compacted block that needs to hydrated before it can be used. However, it does not lower pH like peat moss does. Be sure your coconut coir you are purchasing is rinsed! If it isn’t you will be introducing salts to your garden, which we don’t need. Work in 1” of coconut coir to your garden.

Manures: Manure is an excellent source of organic matter and it supplies many nutrients, but can contribute to salt build-up, so they’re not good to use if your soil is already salty. Worms love this stuff! Work in 2” of well rotted manure into your garden soil. Fresh manure can harm plants due to the elevated ammonia levels. Avoid this by working into the soil during the fall time and letting it rest through the winter months.

Worm Castings or Worm Compost: Perfectly pH balanced! Worm castings contain minerals and highly active bacteria and enzymes. They protect soil and plants from diseases and help retain moisture. A little goes a long way. Work in up to 1/4” of worm castings or worm compost into your garden soil.

Wood Products: While wood chips and chemical free saw dust are growing in popularity, they can tie up nitrogen in the soil and cause nitrogen deficiency in plants. Microorganisms in the soil use nitrogen to break down the wood. Over several months to years, as microorganisms complete the decomposition process, the nitrogen is released and again becomes available to plants. It’s always best to compost wood products, before using them as soil amendments.

Greensand: Greensand supplies no organic matter, but help loosen clay soils and improves water and nutrient retention in sandy soils. It is rich in slow-release potassium and micronutrients. Personally, I wouldn’t grow without it. Add in the fall or early spring. Work in 2-5 pounds per 100 square foot of garden area.

Gypsum: Gypsum supplies no organic matter. It corrects soil structure problems caused by too much magnesium or sodium. May help loosen clay soils. Supplies plenty of calcium without changing the pH, so don’t use where calcium levels are already high. Not good for acidic soils.

Perlite and Vermiculite: Both of these soil amendments have no nutrient value. Perlite is best for clay soils to help the porosity. Vermiculite will help sandy soils retain moisture.

Shrimp Meal and Crab Meal: Both of these meals not only amend the soil, but they offer many benefits to the plants and soil. Microorganisms in the soil feast on shrimp meal and crab meal, making a more lively soil, in turn stimulating plant growth and health, while adding a slow-release fertilizer as well. These amendments are powerhouses for controlling devastating soil nematodes.

A word on Biosolids and/or composts containing biosolids. Biosolids are byproducts of sewage treatment. They generally contain heavy metals, pathogens, and salts. Biosolids are approved for use in production of agriculture, however, it is advisable to avoid application to vegetable gardens due to the potential for heavy metals. They can be found alone or composted with other organic matter. Compost containing biosolids can be found very cheap by the truck load. But, is cheap worth it?

There are so many choices of soil amendments. You can mix and match to what your soils needs are. So know your soil! But one thing is for sure. You can never go wrong with my favorite, COMPOST!

Leave a comment

Filed under Gardening

Growing Top Notch Carrots!

Planning early to have excellent carrots is essential! It’s almost that time of year we start to prepare our garden beds for the best, sweetest carrots. The long tap roots are traditionally orange, but adding yellow, white and tones of red and purple to the carrot color palettes can turn the transitional hohum choice to exciting.

The best shaped and flavorful carrots do best in soil free of stones, clods and compaction. When preparing the soil, till or spade to the depth of at least 12″. Work in plenty of well-rotted compost and let bed rest for 3-6 weeks before planting.  There is a link that excess  manure can cause carrots to fork, so we have always avoided it and we haven’t had forked carrots ever.  When it is time to plant, work in bone meal to keep the soil soft and feed the roots, kelp meal to sweeten the carrots and if your soil is lacking in minerals, greensand is an excellent choice. Only use 3-6 pounds of fertilizer per 100 square foot of planting area. Over-fertilizing can cause carrots to split. Hold off on high nitrogen fertilizer or you will end up with magnificent tops and small roots. If you don’t have time to wait for soil to rest, add only a small amount of compost and dig in the organic fertilizer at planting time.

Carrots can be grown in all climates. Seed can be sown from late winter to late summer. Check with your local nursery, gardener or extension office for the best times to sow seeds or just follow seed packet times. Carrots sown in the late summer make for the sweetest harvest in fall once a frost has come.

Carrots are best grown from seed as they resent transplanting. Sow seed no deeper than 1/4” deep and 1” apart. Once seeds are sown, cover with a seed guard to encourage germination. This not only helps the seeds to germinate, but it helps keep the soil damp and protects your seeds from hungry birds and other critters. Once Carrots have reached 3 inches tall, remove seed guard and thin seedlings to 2-3”. Further thinning can be carried out at the baby carrot stage to give more room in the row (and you can eat the little carrots).

Keep soil free from weeds for best growth. Keeping plants well watered throughout their growing stages helps avoid stress factors that may send into premature bolting, which makes for small or woody carrots. Cut back water when carrots mature as over-watering at this stage may cause carrots to split.

During the growing season, apply a side dress of dry organic fertilizer or liquid-feed bi-monthly.

Carrots are a long-maturing crops, so knowing when to harvest them can be tricky if your new to it. Keeping track of when the seeds were sown provides a good guide to harvest time. Most carrots mature around 12-16 weeks. Small or baby carrots may be harvested in 10-12 weeks.

To harvest carrots without breaking them, gently pull at the base of the foliage and work the carrot out of the soil avoiding breaking the root. If you carrot is proving hard to pull, use a digging fork to lift the out of the soil.

Remove the leaves after harvesting cutting close to the top of the root to improve storage. Store in a cool room or bag and place them in the refrigerator. Carrots should last for at least four weeks.

Grow an array of colored carrots with your kids this spring. Kids love to eat what they grow! Eat them fresh from the garden or cook them up for dinner. Bake them with a bit of butter and maple syrup. What a sweet treat anyway you eat them! Enjoy

Some of our favorites carrots:

Yaya Carrot

Negovia Carrot

Starburst Carrot Mix  This one tastes great and kids and adults love it!



Leave a comment

Filed under Gardening

What to Plant in Your Fall Garden

Experienced gardeners know that the gardening season does not close at the end of summer!  It to to plant fall vegetables and prepare fro next season’s vegetable gardening.  But, it hardly seems logical to discuss fall planting when summer’s bounty is just getting underway, but it’s the right time to begin your plans for an autumn garden. Ideally gardeners should start preparing for fall right around the summer solstice, if not before if you live in an area with a short growing season. In most areas planting should take place from July through August and possibly September for warmer climates to allow for plenty of time for seeds and plants to grow and mature before the first autumn freeze. The average date of the first killing frost in your area is the most important thing to know when it comes to fall vegetable gardening. Your local garden center is a good source of information for this date. To determine when to start planting, find out the number of days to maturity for the vegetable. Next, count back the number of days from the first average frost date. Add a week or so to allow for a few extra days to harvest the produce once it’s mature. You will find maturity information on seed packets and some plant labels. Most everything you plant in spring you can grow in your fall garden, too. These are cool season plants, meaning they will tolerate a light frost, thrive in short daylight hours and perform best with mild temperatures. Some vegetables even taste better when nipped by a light frost and bug damage is lower in the fall time.

Last average frost FREE date for Hurricane Valley: November 1st. Adjust a few days up to a few weeks for surrounding areas.

Plants for Your Fall Vegetable Garden:

Growing Broccoli through the winter months

Fall  Broccoli

Cauliflower– Plant seedlings 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. Cauliflower can be tricky to grow. Rich soil and consistent watering are the keys. Never let your plants dry out and young starts are best. Fluctuations in temperature, moisture and nutrients can cause the plant to “button” or produce small, undersized heads. Blanch the heads by tying the outer leaves together over the heads when they are about 2 to 3 inches across. This keeps them from turning green and becoming bitter. 60 days to maturity.

Kohlrabi – Kohlrabi is a member of cabbage family, super easy to grow, but it looks and tastes similar to a turnip. The bulbous edible portion grows just above the soil line. Shade young plants from summer sun. 40 to 60 days to maturity depending on variety.

Lettuce – Sow seeds in late summer. Provide the seedlings with consistent moisture and shade from the afternoon sun. 45 to 60 days to harvest depending on type and variety.

Mustard Greens & Mesclun Mixes – Sow seeds 6 weeks before the first frost. Seeds will germinate in soil that is 45 to 65 degrees F. Keep the soil consistently moist to encourage rapid growth and tender greens. 45 days to maturity. – Sow seeds for radishes 4 weeks before the first frost. Winter varieties such as China Rose and Giant Sicily mature slower, grow larger and store longer. They should be sown about 6 weeks before the first frost. Sow the seeds evenly so you don’t have to thin them. No feeding necessary, but soil should be fertile and well drained. They are quick to mature so check them regularly. They are ready to harvest as soon as they are of edible size. 25 to 50 days to maturity depending on variety.

 Spinach – Sow seeds 5 weeks before first frost date. The short days and cool, moist weather of fall is even better for spinach than spring. An established spinach crop will last well into winter and can survive temperatures down into the 20s. Spinach prefers very fertile soil to encourage rapid growth and tender leaves. 45 days to maturity.

Arugula – Begin sowing seeds in August every two to three weeks for continued harvest. Arugula is fast growing and should be harvested often to prevent from going to seed. Baby arugula can be harvested as early as 25 days. Larger leaves, 45 days to maturity.

Broccoli – Broccoli seedlings should be planted 10 weeks before the first frost date in your area. This means planting them during the last hot summer days so it’s important to mulch around them to help keep the ground cool and moist. Feed the plants 3 weeks after transplanting into the garden. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer. About 70 days to maturity.

Brussels Sprouts – Brussels sprouts are ideal for fall gardens because they really taste best when allowed to mature in cool weather. In my mid-South garden, summer comes too quickly to grow them in the spring garden. Set the plants out in mid to late summer. It will take about 3 months before the sprouts appear. They are ready for harvest when they are firm and green. 90 days to maturity.

Cabbage – Plant seedlings 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. If the heat of summer is still intense when it’s time to plant in your area, give the young plants protection from sun. Cabbages are heavy feeders that require fertile soil rich in organic matter and consistent moisture. 70 days to maturity.

Other Vegetable that you can sow in the autumn: Turnips, winter and spring onions, leeks, beets, broad beans, carrots, endive, and peas. Bulbs to plant: Garlic and shallots.

Tips for fall gardens:

Plant seeds twice the depth of the seed. So, lettuce is just barely covered with soil. Use a floating row cover for newly planted seed beds. This keeps birds from eating the seed, keeps moisture in during warm days and helps control seeds from being washed away during watering.

Slightly work in Compost with digging fork and add cottonseed meal or alfalfa meal over the surface.

Keep soil moist to insure good seed germination and new transplants healthy.

If temperatures are higher than normal while planting new transplants, use a light row cover to keep young tender plants from burning.

Keep frost blanket or clouches on hand just in case of a hard, early freeze.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gardening

A Bee Friendly Garden

Yes, I do love those bees! Whether it be bumblebee, honeybee or masonbee.

Where would we be without our pollinating insects, especially bees! There importance is extraordinary.  Although not all our crops rely on insects to pollinate them, it is estimated that more than 70% of food crops rely on bees and other pollinators.  Even higher percentages with wild plants.

With the decline in bee population we can do our part by helping attract bees to our gardens with bee and pollinator friendly plants.  Even in the vegetable gardens.  You don’t have to have a specific bee garden, just add beautiful plants that attract these insects, here an there throughout your landscape.

There is a plethora of bee friendly plants but they do like certain types.  Flowers with flat landing places (umbel) and those with wide trumpets like squash flowers in sunny locations.  Bees also prefer white, yellow, violet, purple and blue flowers.  Native and heirloom varieties are best as many new hybrids are pollen-free.  Try to have at least four or five different types of plants flowering at any one time.

Some great examples of open and flat flowers are calendula, poppies, and those from the Apiaceae family such as flowering dill, parsley, fennel, carrots and Queen Ann’s lace.  Sunflowers offer a great landing pad with plenty of pollen and adds a cheeriness to the garden.  Yarrow, echinacea, tansy, clover, alyssum, catmints are all beautiful popped in here and there in sunny locations offering nectar-rich pollen.  Most plants that butterflies love, bees enjoy as well, such as the butterfly bush.  Think about edging a garden with lavender, sages and salvias.  Even sedums when flowering are wonderful attracting plants.  Edible herbs like basil, sweet marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme, winter savory and lemon balm serve more than a purpose for the kitchen!  By adding pollinator plants you increase the biodiversity in the garden, overall better health for your garden and you!

Keep your garden clean of harmful chemical sprays!  Even organic types of pest controls should be used responsibly.  Don’t go on a spraying party for just a few pest.  Hand removal is best for those small problems.  When you truly need to spray, spray in the late evening, when all bees have returned to their hives and never spray the flowers!!

Beekeeping is becoming popular these days.  Get informed.  Take some classes from your local county extension or join bee clubs.  Become bee friendly to preserve our future!

Looking for a seed collection of bee friendly plants?  Click on the link and you’ll find a A Bee Seed Collection .

Leave a comment

Filed under Bees, Gardening