Fall Garden Soil Preparation Tips

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Fall Garden Soil Prep Tips

By Richard Godke

Fall is the best time to prepare your garden soil for next spring.  Soil is the most important factor in raising a successful garden.  There are five basic fall soil preparation components that you will need to explore to maximize soil fertility.  These components are: soil pH; soil structure; and the levels of  phosphorus and potassium, secondary and micro nutrients, and nitrogen.  New gardeners will not want to mess with soil preparation.  Purchasing bagged garden soil is simple and easy.  The bagged soil has been tested, nutrients added, and is properly mixed to give you what you need to get started.  I would recommend checking out http://homegardeningforbeginners.org/featured/bag-gardening-for-home-vegetables/ which explains a great way to easily grow vegetables right in the soil bags.

Fall Vegetable Garden Soil Test

Fall is the best time to annually test your soil so you can adjust the pH, phosphorus, and potassium.  Check with your County Extension Office http://npic.orst.edu/pest/countyext.htm for places to have your soil tested.  Many Extension Office test soil samples for pH levels for free.  Most offices can send samples to their affiliated university for pH, phosphorus, potassium and other tests for a fee.  This office recommends soil additives and application rates to correct any problems specific to your soil samples and soil in your area.   To take a soil sample get an equal slice of soil at least 8” deep for every 100 square feet.  Keep surface debris out of the sample.  Place the samples in a bucket with up to five other spade slices., mix all samples together well, and take about two cups out for each sample.  Record on the sample label your name, date and sample number.  Make a diagram map that shows where the sample came from.  Let the samples air dry to prevent soil fertility changes.  You can purchase a home test kit and meters that you can test for pH, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).  I have not had very consistent results from these home tests.

Fall Garden Tips for pH

The pH is the most important single soil component.  pH is the scale is from 1 to 14 that measures the levels of acid or alkaline in the soil.  Most garden plants prefer the pH between 5.5 and 6.5.  Lime is used to raise the pH and sulfur is commonly used to lower the pH.  If the pH is too high or low it can tie up many needed plant nutrients.  It is important to make the recommended additions in the fall before deep tilling.  The soil pH is not mobile in the soil.  For example, if limestone is applied to the surface without tilling, pH will be very alkaline on the surface and very acid deep in the soil.  It takes time for the additives to change the pH of the soil so it is ideal to apply lime or sulfur in the fall.  The smaller the lime is ground up the quicker it will change the pH.  Soil pH is the most important component when preparing you fall garden and will correct most deficiencies of micronutrients.

Phosphorus and Potassium Suggestions for Fall Garden

Phosphorus and potassium are two macro-nutrients that are needed by plants in relatively large quantities.  A fall soil test is the best way to determine the level of these two elements.  These elements are not very mobile in the soil like the pH additives.  They need to be tilled into the soil at a depth of 8”.  Your Extension office can recommend the amounts of phosphorus P?O? and potassium K?O for you soil types.  Phosphorus deficiency results in slow growth and older leaves turn purple.  Potassium deficiency results in slow growth and leaf edges turn light green to yellow.  Fertilizer labels have 3 numbers, the N-P-K formula, for example: 10-5-15. These numbers represent 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 15% potassium per bag. The remaining 70% consists of fillers.

Fall Garden Soil Structure Information

Soil structure refers mainly to the size of soil particles.  Soil has three size categories: clay –small, silt-medium, and sand-large.  Which is best?  Each size has advantages and disadvantages.    Clay for example will hold nutrients and moisture but it is so dense the plant has a hard time sending roots through the tight mass.  Sand has plenty of air pockets for the plant roots but does not hold nutrients, and the soil dries out quickly putting plants at a disadvantage when it is dry.  A combination of different sizes is the best.  Adding organic material to any of these soils is what I recommend.  Compost, coconut coir, large animal well-rotted manures and peat moss will provide needed plant nutrients, hold water and allow good air movement in the soil.  I had a garden with some of the best soil in the world that was 6 feet of top soil and I still had a big increase in yields as a result of adding compost.  Adding organic materials to your fall garden will help correct any problems you soil structure might be causing.

Fall Garden Plan for Secondary and Micro Nutrients

Secondary nutrients include: calcium, magnesium, sodium, and sulfur.  They are required in small quantities but are still essential for good plant growth.  Plant micronutrients are elements needed in even small amounts than the secondary groups for the plant to thrive.  They include manganese, boron, copper, iron, chlorine, molybdenum, and zinc.  Soils with high amounts of organic material and have a soil pH between 6 and 7 tend to have adequate amounts of these elements.  In most cases testing for micronutrients is not needed unless the plants are not productive.  To insure you have enough organic material spread 25 to 100 pounds of compost or partially decomposed manure per 100 square feet.

Nitrogen Advice for Fall Garden

Testing for nitrogen is not recommended.  Nitrogen is very mobile in the soil.  Excessive snow melt, rain and irrigation can move the available forms of nitrogen below the root zone.  For the most eco-friendly application of nitrogen, fertilize in small amounts and increase amounts when the plant is rapidly growing.  For example a corn plant uses the largest percent of total nitrogen between being knee high and tasseling.  Here is a good video on “Planting a Vegetable Garden for Spring” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNOe0UogfY0&feature=youtu.be.  My rule of thumb is to fertilize with nitrogen when the plant loses its deep green color and the growth slows.  Too much nitrogen will cause green plant growth and suppress fruit formation.  Adding too much fertilizer is a problem many beginning gardeners make

Fall is an excellent time to prepare your garden for next spring.  Soil preparation requires soil testing and an adjustment period for the soil.  If pH additives and additional phosphorus and potassium are needed it all must be incorporated 8” deep to maximize the results.  Tilled in compost or animal manure in the fall helps build beneficial soil organisms (bacteria, fungi, and worms) during the winter months.  Here is some excellent information on “Fertilizing the Organic Garden” http://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource000489_Rep511.pdf.  By understanding and preparing the soil you will maximize the production of your spring garden.  Many gardeners wait until a later convenient time and that results in this gardening task not getting done.  Start your spring garden with the proper fall garden soil preparation.

 

Worm Facts for Beginning Gardeners

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Worm Facts for Beginning Gardeners

By Richard Godke

Fall is a great time to start a simple family worm farm (vermicomposting) under your kitchen sink or cabinet. Trust me this will not stink up the house. Watch nature take food waste and turn it in to an ecofriendly, economic, organic fertilizer for your garden. Children love to see the transformation of food scraps to soil. Beginner gardeners can be very successful raising worms by understanding some basic worm facts dealing with; housing, bedding, and feeding. This natural recycling process depends on a balance of: water, carbon-nitrogen ratio, air, and live organisms. Check out this video if you want to learn the truly scientific worm facts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFGQR5ERaPQ. It is so easy to take kitchen scraps and turn it into organic fertilizers by following my “10 Most Important Worm Facts to Get You Started”.

1. Worm Facts – Red Wrigglers (Eisenia fetida/Andrei) perform well in a confined space.

Red Wrigglers love to spend their time close to the surface and only burrow down 12 inches. They are organic surface feeders that quickly reproduce and convert organic waste into nutrient rich organic soil. They tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions, eat up to 1 ½ times their own body weight a day and produce worm castings (poop) as much as 75% of their own body weight. You can purchase Red Wrigglers on the web or you may be able to purchase from a bait shop. Beginners should always start with at least 100 Red Wriggler worms.

2. Worm Facts – Worms need housing that is dark, quiet, and has a consistent temperature.

A non-opaque Rubbermaid® tub or tote makes a great home for your worm farm. This video shows you how to build a worm farm https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX_JDkiwhOc&feature=youtu.be. A comfortable worm eats faster and converts more waste into worm castings (poop). Keep the box out of the direct sun. Sunlight could kill the worms since they love darkness. Worms like the same temperature as humans who are between 59-86° F or (15-30 °C) and 77° F (25° C) is ideal. Worms like it quiet. They do not like vibration and being moved around. Beginners should always keep the worm farm in a dark, quiet location, with a consistent temperature around 77° F (25° C).

3. Worm Facts – Worms need bedding high in carbon.

Corrugated cardboard and shredded fluffed up newspaper is very high in carbon. You can never have too much high carbon bedding. The worms will eventually eat the bedding because it is an organic carbon. High carbon bedding causes many beginners startup problems. I recommend laying a sheet of corrugated cardboard in the bottom of the tub to help absorb any execs water. Worms love to burrow in the tunnels. Red worms multiply quickly in this cardboard. Do not use bleached office paper, garden soil, potting soil, fresh green grass or paper board. Paper board is the single layer cardboard with a slick coating. Beginners should always use plenty of corrugated cardboard and shredded fluffed up newspaper as the worm farm bedding.

4. Worm Facts – Worms like to eat organic matter including fruits and vegetables.

Worms love to eat all kinds of organic matter: fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags and garden waste. Before feeding: age, chop, cook, or freeze the worm feed to help start the structural breakdown of the materials. Microbes, bacteria, fungi, and protozoans help to break down the worm feed. This speeds up the composting process. The amount you feed depends on how much the worms are eating. Inoculating the worm farm with decomposed worm castings from another farm will help jump start your worm farm. It is recommended that you feed the system with finely crushed egg shells to enhance the worm’s digestive system. Beginners should use only food items the worms like to eat.

5. Worm Facts – Worms do not like certain foods.

Worms do not like onions, peppers, citrus fruits, bones, oils, meat, dairy products, grease, fresh lawn grass, paper board, animal manures and urine, and foods high in protein, spices, and salt. Beginners should avoid using these items that worms do not like to eat.

6. Worm Facts – Worms easily die from too much ammonia gas.

Ammonia gas is produced in a worm farm when the carbon to nitrogen ratio is above 20:1. Bedding items that are high in carbon that I have not mentioned earlier include: paper egg cartons, peat moss, coco coir, toilet paper rolls, shredded brown paper, sawdust, wood chips, shavings, leaf mold, rotten straw or hay, coarse compost, and well-aged manure. The nitrogen source comes mainly from what the worms are fed in addition to the ideal food items already mentioned that should be used sparingly and should only be used by experienced worm farmers: fresh grass clippings, and large animal manures. Worms will survive better with excessive bedding rather than too much high nitrogen feed. Off-gassing of ammonia is a quick worm killer. Beginners should remember not to introduce to much nitrogen to your worm farm.

7. Worm Facts – Worms are sensitive to chemicals.

Worms are covered in slim that make it easy for deadly chemicals to enter their body. Introducing feed or bedding that has been exposed to chemical pesticide or disinfectants is a mistake some new worm farmers make. If you use chemicals in the garden or on your lawn make sure you do not introduce these chemical to your worms. Household cleaners should be used with caution around your worm farm. If you encounter insects do not spray with a bug killer. Using organic mechanical controls are much safer. Feed management, vinegar traps, and vacuum sweeper management can eliminated the problem over a period of time. Beginners should not use chemical around the worm farm.

8. Worm Facts – Worms perform best in bedding with a 60-90% moisture level.

Worms are made up of mostly water and they need water to facilitate gas exchange (breathing). Simply take a handful of bedding and give it a squeeze it to determine the moisture level. If water drips out it is too wet. Another way to describe the moisture level of the bedding, “it should feel like a well rung out sponge”. Too much water cuts down on the amount of airspace in the bedding. This results in anaerobic fermentation and creates ammonia gas and other chemical imbalances. Beginners should keep the worm farm moisture level between 60-90%.

9. Worm Facts – Worm need good ventilation.

Worms are tolerant of low oxygen levels. It still is important to provide plenty of ventilation for your worm farm. A rotten or sour smell indicates that more carbon based bedding and aeration is needed. Placing small holes on the top and high in the sides of the container will provide oxygen and ventilation venting away unwanted gasses like ammonia. Make sure the holes are small, about 1/8 inch, to limit light and so the worms do not sneak out. Some worm farmers like to use fabric covers over the worms. This allows for more air and moisture circulation but still keeps it dark. It is always a balancing act trying to keep the ideal moisture and adequate ventilation levels. Beginning gardeners should keep the worm farm well ventilated to prevent gas build up.

10. Worm Facts – Worm production must be thought of as a total ecosystem.

The worm farm concept is very simple. By understanding my “10 Most Important Worm Facts to Get You Started” you can solve most worm farming problems. If you do encounter additional problems you can revisit the natural ecosystem of water, carbon-nitrogen ratio, air, and living organisms. Beginners should keep the ecosystem balanced while solving the problem.

Worm composting is a perfect project for beginning vegetable gardeners. Know your worm facts and use the nature ecosystem to change food waste to an ecofriendly, economic, organic fertilizer for your garden. You can easily get started with very little investment by understanding how to deal with the main worm management categories of: worms, housing, bedding, and feeding. The natural ecosystem process makes a great educational study of the balance of: water, carbon-nitrogen ratio, air, and live organisms. To learn more about vermicomposting check out this great website http://www.redwormcomposting.com/. Bring your garden inside this fall. Start out easy if you follow my “10 Most Important Worm Facts to Get You Started”.

 

 

How to Compost Fall Leaves?

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How to Compost Leaves

By Richard Godke

“What do I do with all those leaves?”  Look at the beautiful fall leaves that pile up as future plant food.  People have been asking how to compost fall leaves.  Composting is a great way for beginner home gardeners to prepare for next year’s garden, save money, and help the environment.  Garden soil is the most important factor in the success of a garden.  Compost loosens the soil, provides slow release of nutrients, aids in soil drainage and aeration, and allows great water retention – saving on the water that you use.  Composting fall leaves is easy if you understand the science behind the process.  Rather than sending your leaves to the landfill consider composting them using these easy steps.
The composting process takes organic materials (previously alive things) and breaks them down into basic nutrient components that are easily absorbed by plants.  How to Compost Autumn Leaves is a great video to help you understand the basis.  Composting requires needs these components in the correct proportions to quickly complete the process: moisture, heat, composting organisms, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen.  Nature does it all the time without the help of humans.  Proper management of the compost can greatly speed the process. You can produce leaf compost more quickly by looking for these four basic indicators in your compost pile: 1. temperature, 2. moisture, 3. odor, and 4. fluffiness (available air pockets).  Take the temperature with a thermometer.  Within days of building your compost pile the temp should rise until it reaches between 104-150°F (40-65°C).  Measure the moisture level, by squeezing a handful of compost, if water drips out it is too wet.  Too much water takes up the space needed by oxygen that feeds the aerobic bacteria.  A highly efficient compost pile should first smell like the materials the being composted – grass, leaves, or straw for example.  Later in the composting process it will smell like garden dirt or a fresh rain.  If the compost pile smells sour or rotten the materials are too wet or lacking more carbon-based material.  Knowing how to Compost fall leaves can quickly turn litter into black gold or compost.  Here are my 6 ways for a speedy leaf composting adventure.

How to compost using full sun

The quicker the sun heats up the compost pile the quicker the bacteria start growing and begin the composting process.  Autumn can have very cold temperatures.  Additional heat from the sun can jumpstart the process in the fall.  Once the bacteria begin growing, it will generate its own needed temperature.  A warm compost pile can be covered with snow and still produce plumes of steam.  Giving your compost pile a warm start can continue the process throughout the winter.  Knowing how to compost involves getting the temperature up to start the process.

How to compost using a mower and grinder

Flat leaves fall to the ground and stack up in layers cutting needed air pockets for the bacteria.  Mow over the leaves, rake, and then pile.  Or you can use a grass catcher bag on your mower and then pile.  The addition of the grass clippings in the mix will speed up the composting process.  Grass clipping have higher nitrogen content than leaves only.  The pulverized leaves should be dumped in layers onto the compost pile.  You can also use a machine made to grind up leaves and twigs.  Another way to chop up leaves is to place the leaves in a garbage can and plunge a string trimmer down into the can.  When using power tools always read and follow the safety instructions.  Breaking leaves down into smaller pieces will help stop leaf packing and speed up the composting process.  Leaf crushing may not be practical if you have lots of leaves.  Knowing how to compost involves air pockets in the pile.

How to compost using an additional nitrogen source

Nitrogen is needed to feed the aerobic bacteria that break down the leaves.  Low cost organic nitrogen sources include: fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and cattle, horse, poultry, and rabbit manures.  Avoid – meats, dairy products, fats, oils and cat and dog manures.  A non-organic nitrogen source could be commercial 10-10-10 fertilizer.  Most leaf compost piles will benefit from about ½ cup (118.29 Milliliters) per 1 ft. deep X 4 ft. X 4 ft. or (0.30480 M X 1.2192 M X 1.2192 M).  Adding extra nitrogen will greatly increase the decomposition rate of your leaves.  Any extra nutrients added will be available to your garden when the compost is applied.  Additional nitrogen sources will give your leaf compost a jump on the winter temperatures.  Knowing how to compost involves using the correct nitrogen ratio.

How to compost using layers of different materials?

Leaves tend to compact easily when they get wet.  It is important to layer the leaves with dampened garden soil, and a nitrogen source.  Do not use soil that has recently been treated with weed killer.  It could slow the compost process and kill the garden plants.  Damp soil has the useful bacteria that are needed to begin the composting process.  You can purchase commercial compost starter.  I have found that garden soil works just as well.  It is easier to first apply the dry soil, nitrogen source, and then dampen with a garden hose.  The ideal moisture content for compost is 40-60%.  In comparison, freshly mown grass has about 50% moisture. When compost is squeezed it should stick together.  It must be dry enough that a squeeze does not produce a drop of liquid.  Spraying the water on each layer will work the soil, bacteria, and nitrogen source down into the pile, speeding the process.

How to compost using the flat top method

A mound of dried leaves can seal the top of the compost pile causing the water to run off like shingles on a roof.  Some compost piles then stay completely dry in the middle.  The mound of leaves on the top caused the rain to run off.  When building a leaf compost pile it is important to make the top flat or slightly concave (dipped).  This causes the water to run into the middle of the pile carrying the soil, bacteria, and nitrogen down through the pile.  This will encourage an explosion of bacteria growth.  Knowing how to compost fall leaves involves getting moisture to the center of the pile.

How to compost by introducing oxygen

Hard and shiny leaves tend to easily compress together.  It is vital to turn the compost pile to introduce oxygen to the bacteria.  Several days after building a leaf compost pile the temperature increases.  The temp will then slowly decrease.  When the temperature significantly drops it is time to turn the pile.  Simply move the pile from one spot to another to introduce new air pockets.  This will also mix up the elements so each piece comes in contact with the moisture, bacteria and nitrogen.  Turning the compost pile is kind of like kneading bread dough.  It causes the pile temperature to increase again.  Repeat these turning process until the materials are broken down and the temp does not increase.  At this stage, the shape of the original material is not recognizable.  A great way to speed the process is to use a rotating compost barrel that allows you to easily turn the compost, usually several times a week.  It is surprising how much the additional aeration will speed the process.

Your fallen leaves can be made into a valuable environmentally friendly garden accelerator.  If you want a successful garden it starts with organically rich soil.  The best way to get high quality, low cost, and environmentally friendly soil additive is to compost your own leaves.  By following my 6 steps To Speedy Leaf Composting you can possibly produce a batch of completed fall leaf compost in three months.  How to compost and why are covered on a great web page Composting at Home Introduction to Composting.  If the compost is not properly managed it could take from 6 to 12 months.  To maximize the composting process it is important to understand the 4 basic compost pile signals: 1. temperature, 2. moisture, 3. odor, and 4. fluffiness (available air pockets).  By understanding the composting process and how the elements work together your process time will greatly be reduced.  As you manage your compost pile I encourage you to experiment with different combinations of: moisture, heat, organisms, carbon based organic material, nitrogen and oxygen.  Composting is another way beginner gardeners can enjoy the beautiful leaves in the fall..

Fall Garden Ideas Help Beginners

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Fall Garden Ideas Includes Lettuce

By Richard Godke

Here are some fall garden ideas that will get the beginning vegetable gardener started without waiting for spring to arrive. August and September are perfect times to start a fall garden in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4B and higher. The warmth of summer gives the new vegetable plants a quick start and can provide some of the best quality produce of the year. Yes, this is the time for beginning gardeners to get started. The experienced gardeners have been enjoying fall vegetable gardens for years.

Fall Garden Ideas – Which vegetables do I plant?

My favorite quick harvest, cool loving fall crops are frost sensitive. They include: radishes (maturing in as little as 18 to 21 days), kohlrabi, (one of my favorites), leaf lettuce, arugula, and spinach, (maturing around 55 days). A frost blanket row cover can keep the plants 4-6 degrees F. warmer and greatly increases the length of your production. I like the frost tolerant brassica crops that can take some frost like: kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. The frost sensitive root crops that I recommend are beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips. If they are well covered with straw you can leave them in the ground until the soil starts to freeze, and they will become tastier. However don’t let them get frozen into the soil. I have had good luck with frost resistant crops like evergreen bunch onion, garlic, leeks, and chives wintering over in USDA zone 5A. Many gardeners recommend these risky frost crops including: bush beans, sugar snap peas, and cabbage. However, I would not recommend them for beginners. Any of these vegetables are great fall garden ideas.

 

Fall Garden Ideas – When do I plant?

How does a beginning gardener know the best date to plant a fall garden? First click on Plant Hardiness Zones, then enter your zip code, and click on the zone it provides. It will show you the date of the Average First Fall Frost. Count back from the Average First Fall Frost, the number of days needed for your crop to mature. It will be found on the seed package. This will give you an estimated planting date for that crop. These fall garden ideas are just an estimate; mother nature does not always follow the charts. Areas within a specific zone may be affected by buildings, trees, hills, lakes, etc. creating a micro climate. You can reduce the number of days needed by using a frost blanket, closures, covering plants with straw, or by purchasing vegetable transplant from your garden center.

Fall Garden Ideas – How do I start?

Gardening in a bag, square foot gardening, and straw bale gardening are fall garden ideas that are easy, cost efficient, and productive ways for the beginning gardener to get started. Bag gardening is when you plant your vegetables directly into the bags of soil you purchase from the store. Yes it really works! I had two bags going this summer and they produced sugar snap peas, Swiss chard, and meal after meal of okra. I am now getting ready for my fall crops. Straw bale gardening is a method where one takes a wheat or oat straw bale, tip it on edge, soak it with water, let it set for a week, make a depression in the bale, fill with potting soil, and plant. As the bale slowly decomposes the vegetables will grow into the decomposing bale. Square foot gardening take a little more planning and cost but is well worth the effort. Build a small raised bed 4 feet by 4 feet by 6-12 inches deep and then fill it with quality organic matter. I have had square foot gardens that yield four times as much produce compared with a traditional row garden.
Fall is a great time for beginning gardeners to get started. Fall gardens provide seeds with faster germination in the warm soil. It is very pleasant to work outside in the fall weather and the soil takes less water while many of the common insects are no longer around. Try these fall garden ideas and enjoy the cool loving crops that thrive in the pleasant fall weather. So if you are a new gardener it is time to get started with these great fall garden ideas.

Growing the Tallest Corn Plant

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Tallest Corn Plant

By Richard Godke

I am a Midwest boy that was trained by some of the leading corn professors in the world. After building a 20 foot tower with a grow light inside an upside down garbage can in my back yard with; full sun, 5 feet topsoil, and the best corn fertilizer program available. My corn plant reached 17.5 feet. I asked my professor why after following all of the best management practices, why did the corn plant not break the world record which was 21.5 feet then.it not grow higher? His answer surprisingly was day length. When summer starts, June 21 the days get shorter and this tells most corn plants that it is time to prepare to tassel. It may take different number of days to tassel depending on the corn variety. My stock started tasseling in mid July.stopping its upward growth. That year I moved away from my tower, excellent soil and a full sun yard so I have never tried again.
Key to growing the tallest corn plant is a shade program that does not let the corn plant know the days are getting shorter starting June 21. It is easier to set a system that limits light rather than trying to substitute artificial light. My garbage can with a 100 watt grow light had little effect on the day length effect, according to the expert. So build a tower that you can keep 100 % of light out, and can open it up every day so the plant thing the days are getting longer the plant will never try to set a tassel so it will keep growing upward. This takes a lot of planning and limiting the day length at the beginning of the growth.

Top Ten Organic Gardening Tips

Organic gardening grows more and more popular each day, and for good reason. Organic gardeners avoid the use of synthetic chemicals to keep their yards healthy and hazard-free. The methods of keeping plants growing vigorously without the heavy reliance on environmentally unfriendly sprays are the true success of organic gardens. The most important aspect of organic gardening? Soil.

As the life force of the garden, soil enriched with organic matter becomes moist, airy, and fertile–ideal for healthy plants. It also nourishes beneficial organisms and bacteria and supports fungi that optimize growing conditions. Prevention is also the watchword of organic gardeners. Plants can thrive if they are given the right amount of sun, suitable soil, proper spacing, and ideal planting.

Here are a few tips that will help you keep your organic garden thriving and healthy.

1. Maintain a good compost pile. The nutrients derived from your composting provide everything your soil needs to sustain the garden. Start the compost pile on a bed of branched sticks that will allow air to rise. Add a perforated pipe (PVC works well) in the center and build layers of old leaves, grass clippings, and other garden leftovers around it. The air will flow through the pipe into the pile. If you cannot use the finished compost for a while, cover the pile with a tarp to trap the nutrients in the compost.

2. Be mindful of the length of the growing season. The longer the growing season, the more compost is needed in the soil. A longer growing season requires more nutrients and organic matter in the soil.

3. Try companion planting. Some plants replenish nutrients lost by another plant, and some combinations can effectively keep pests away.

Consult your local garden center for advice pertinent to your area.

4. Water in the morning. Doing so will help you avoid powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that are often spread by high humidity.

5. Give new beds that extra kick with plenty of compost, soil amendments, and double digging.

6. Keep dirt off lettuce and cabbage leaves when growing by spreading a 1 to 2 inch layer of mulch (untreated by pesticides or fertilizers) around each plant. This also helps keep the weeds down.

7. Recycle your soda bottles, milk jugs, and other plastic containers as great mini-covers to place over your plants and protect them from frost.

8. A garden soil that has been well mulched and amended periodically requires only about a 1-inch layer of compost yearly to maintain its quality.

9. Diatomaceous earth is an abrasive white powder used to damage the cuticle, skin, and joints of insects, and it makes an excellent organic insecticide. It also makes an excellent slug barrier.

10. Rotate your crops each year to help reduce pest and disease problems, as well as to correct nutrient deficiencies and excesses.

Plant World Nursery (http://www.plantworldstgeorge.com) has all the tools and information you need for organic gardening in Utah Rachel Spohn is a freelance author.