till

Have You Exercised Your Soil Lately?

Soil is key to healthy plants.  Duh. But with spring upon us, it’s an important concept to keep in mind. Healthy soil = healthy plants. What makes a healthy soil? Fertilizer? Water? While these two ingredients certainly help, to have truly healthy soil, you need to aerate. Aerate basically means to turn your soil, or add “air” into the compacted ground by redistributing the soil, making for better decomposition. However, one must take caution when aerating established garden soil, because you don’t want to disturb the microorganisms and/or beneficials (good creatures) living beneath the surface. Think worms. You want these little guys to remain happy in your garden and poking them with the sharp blade of a tiller or spade will not make them happy.

gorgeous-worms

How do you aerate your soil in a compassionate manner? Depends on the current condition of your soil. If you’re preparing an area for the first time, your best bet is to go full speed ahead using a push tiller.

rent the tiller

Your goal is to turn up the soil, introduce air, loosening the dirt several inches deep. You can also use a spade for this process. Stab the blade in, dig up the soil, turn it over–stab, dig, turn–over and over. It’s a tedious process but provides great exercise. Hah.

stab shovel both sides

For established gardens, avoid the push tiller and opt for a spade or a hand tool. For example, between planting seasons — I have two here in Central Florida, fall and spring — I turn and till as I work through established beds using a hand fork or shovel, whichever is handy. As I do so, I’ll add compost to increase beneficial organisms into the soil which in turn aids decomposition, aka, more organic compost! Additionally, throughout a single growing season, I’ll poke around my plants with a hand tiller/fork to ensure they’re not becoming compacted by say, heavy rains and the like. We do tend to get torrential downpours.

my beds are formed

Aerating soil not only facilitates the decomposition process of healthy soil, it also ensures light, fluffy beds for your plants. And remember, plants prefer light fluffy beds of dirt because it enables their roots to grow and spread freely. It also allows them to soak up those nutrients you’re “folding” or “tilling” into the soil in the form of organic fertilizer.

loosen and till as you go

Caveat to aeration? You’re turning up weed seeds embedded deep in your soil. Not good, because you’re basically replanting them, encouraging/enabling them to sprout. Ugh. But as every gardener knows, weeds are part of the deal. Some of us are meticulous when it comes to weed removal in and around their plants. Others (like me) have accepted that a few weeds around the garden don’t hurt that bad. They merely look bad. Which brings to mind an old saying along the lines…an immaculate house means a dull life. Loosely translated: I have other more exciting things to do than weed!

Now that you have that spring in your step, head outside! The sun is shining, the temps are warming (or will be soon), and there’s no place you’d rather be than outdoors.

Time to Break Some Ground!

Put your “fun cap” on because it’s time to get your hands dirty!  It’s time to break ground for your new spring garden!  Already have a garden?  Perfect, but you can still get in on the action as it’s a good idea to work your soil for a fresh start.

Now, while I’d like to say this is the easy part—that would be a lie.  This is the part where you get your exercise.  Stretch those cold stiff muscles and get limber again.  Remember, we reap what we sow and we can’t sow if we don’t dig.

Are you smiling yet?  Good.  Now, one of the secrets to great plants is loose soil.  Loose soil promotes strong, deep roots and encourages a healthy plant which means a productive plant.  I learned this the hard way with carrots.  Have you ever seen an “L” shaped carrot?  I have.  As a general rule, carrots will grow down as far as they can easily manage, until the going gets too tough, and then they grow sideways.  Literally.  Packed soil is not their friend.  It’s not friendly to any plant, really, because it doesn’t promote good aeration which helps the plant take in the nutrients it needs. More

Where Have the Students Been?

You mean between field trips to the butterfly gardens and fossil museum?  Christmas break and Martin Luther King Day?  Well, they’ve been in the garden, that’s where, expanding and tilling and generally having a grand old time!

You see, we have learned a valuable lesson.  Plants need sunlight to grow and they need a good dose of it–especially during the winter months.  During spring and summer, our Florida kids enjoy an early afternoon break in the shade, but right now?  Not so much. More

Pinching and Planting

This week the kids were taught how to pinch their plants.  Their tomatoes, to be specific.  (No pinching the others, or slapping that rosemary either.  Kids.)  We pinch our tomatoes to encourage nutrients and water to go where needed—the main stems and branches.  Scraggly, overgrown and unkept tomato plants help no one, least of all the gardener looking for some ruby-red produce.

And it’s simple.  The tiny branch growing in the crux there?  Pinch it—a difficult task if your gloves are ultra thick, so take care, and pinch with precision. 🙂 More

Meet My New Garden Project

Meet my new “garden coaching” subjects.  Justin and Eyry have decided to start a garden (yipee!) and have graciously accepted my offer to help, so long as I can take pictures and post online.  No problem.  Now they’ll tell you they’re novice gardeners, but one look at their new plot and you’ll cross your arms and knit your brow and say, sure they are…

Okay.  Those are some gorgeously formed beds, I’ll give you that–but they’re not that hard to make.  Seriously.  Not when you have the right tools, they’re not.  And I’m not talking about a well-trained husband–as shown above–I’m talking gas-powered tiller!  More

Starting Our New Garden

The kids are breaking new ground and breaking a sweat (hopefully no bones!) as they move the garden—essentially creating a new one. 🙂 It’s the hardest part—physically speaking—but you’d never know it from these kids!

They went at the task with zeal and squeals, with upper elementary supervising the young kindergartners.  Tools in use are a tricky thing at this age, but so long as you have PLENTY of adult supervision, the task can be managed.

Safely managed and productive to boot!  Why, next week, when the middle school students roll their sleeves up, this area will be cleared and ready for planting.  First on the agenda? Potatoes.  (Last year’s crop was gorgeous, wouldn’t you agree?) This semester we’re going to grow our own French fries AND ketchup, too (think:  tomatoes).  How cool is that?  And these will be the healthy kind of French fries and totally parent-approved.

How about joining us!  If you’ve ever wanted to start your own garden, now’s the time to follow along as we go step-by-step through the process of beginning an in ground garden.  Our first step was to choose a sunny location.  You may have noticed we were tilling and removing the surface grass in partial shade, but in Florida, this is actually welcome.  By 3:00pm our plants can use the break from the blazing heat!  But if you live in a more moderate climate, stick with full sun.  You and your plants will be better served.  And don’t forget the water source!  Be sure you have a reliable one nearby.

Second thing to do is remove the grass or whatever ground cover you may have and then till the soil.  Now is a great time because most of the grass is dead or dormant.  “Got snow?”  Well then hit the ground running when it melts away this spring!

Depending on your soil quality, you may want to amend it with organic matter and/or composted cow manure.  We intend to do both, because potatoes like cow poop and our soil is WAY sandy. Besides, we’ve been “growing” all that dirt.  Now is its chance to **shine** in the spotlight!

So how about it?  Grab your gloves and follow along!