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Garden hints was Re: Scotts Company & USBG

Kirsten, I have arthritis in my hands so please excuse the
typos.  I've been making Christmas presents tonight.
    We live in the Southeast. The builder of the house we built
bulldozed all of the topsoil off this lot before we ever bought
the house.  We were left with sandstone and chirt, no soil.  My
husband and I used trees that had been toppled in a hurricane
to build raised beds.  Then we moved soil out of a dry creek
bed next to our home a little at a time and gave each other a
load of soil for Christmas.  Because we live on a very steep
slope, the truck could only drop the load off about 200 ft from
the garden. We wheel-barrowed it up the rest of the way.  I've
also used rocks from the area by husband pick-axed (where we
were trying to build a terraced bed) to form the border of two
raised beds.
     So I've established that we had no soil. Our land is also
on a south facing slope in a very hot area.  In the summer my
poor vegetables fry. I'm working on an apple tree for a bit of
shade. Finally, for some reason, the area is full of disease
such as dampening off, powdery mildew, black spot....   I
believe that is because its been under chemical treatments so
long there are no beneficial microbes left in the soil at all.
There is no soil come to think of it!
       I joined OGL (organic gardening list) two years ago and
spent a winter researching what to do. I had been a successful
organic gardener in New Mexico but wasn't ready for the
challenges here.
   Here's the best of what I learned:
    No Till:  I have found that each time I till, the microbes
have to re-establish themselves and that wastes time and
energy... they aren't as effective helpers as they could be if
I leave them alone. So, I don't till... even this miserable
chirt.  Instead, I have been sheet composting.  If you don't
know what that is, think of lasagne made of paper (if you have
weeds) leaves, grass clippings and soil. I had to use the chirt
from the paths as the soil but it is beginning to work well.  I
used eight to twelve inches of organic material between the
paper and the soil.  I also found that I need LIME. Lime
encourages microbial growth and quick break down of organic
matter.  Lime also helps neutralize acid from the oak leaves.
The first year in a new sheet composted bed is for potatoes and
transplants such as tomatoes (read about mini beds of compost
     Mini beds of compost:    Sheet composting takes time even
in this terrible humid, hot area so I plant everything in mini
beds of compost.  For instance, when I put in spinach I make a
small furrow about two inches deep with a stick and fill it
with compost.  I then plant my seeds into this instead of
directly into the bed. My seedling get a nice start that way.
The better the start, the better the plant. That's why some
plants "need chemical fertilizers" supposedly. If you buy
transplants from a retail store, they are in such bad shape
that you have to move heaven and earth to get them to work out
well! Baby your own transplants and you'll have wonderful
plants that don't require nearly as much attention later.
         Another example of mini beds of compost:  If I want to
plant a transplant I make a hole almost twice the size I need
and fill it half way with compost.  Pumpkins go into a homemade
pot made of newspaper filled with compost. I set the plant down
in the hole being sure there is plenty of compost to keep it
going (all season if the spot doesn't have good soil yet.)   As
my soil gets better (and it will because last year's wad of
compost is this year's good soil), I won't need to do this as
         Good soil makes resistant plants:   Two years ago I
planted two pumpkins. One was in a less than ideal place. It
was too shady and actually I didn't even plant that pumpkin, it
sprouted out of the leftover compost pile from the year before.
The other plant was in my proper garden where I hadn't worked
on the soil as much as I needed to.  The garden pumpkin caught
every disease and pest imaginable.  100 feet away, the
compost,shady pumpkin grew three vines each 40 feet long.  No
pests ever bothered it.  My theory (I've read only a little on
this and can't site research) is that the compost gave the
pumpkin a good dose of beneficial bacteria. This allowed it to
resist bugs and disease and be healthy.  Last year, I planted
my pumpkin in a wad of compost in a hill of grass from a
neighbor (no chemicals on the grass).  I got eight pumpkins. No
too shabby considering it ran into my deep forest and was
beaten up by my dogs until the vine was only threads in places.
      No kidding, this year, in that same pile of grass
clippings (now soil), One tomato (Matt's Wild Cherry) grew.
And grew and grew... it branched out and make a diameter of 15
feet (I didn't stake except for the middle at first) and was 5
feet tall in the middle. I have a lot of requests for the seeds
but each of those folks should be asking my neighbor for his
grass instead!
            I like cover crops: Those sheet composted beds also
get an extra boost with vetch and clover and oats growing in
them. I'm becoming partial to lamb's quarters too (phosphate
miners!).   The cover crop lifts out of my soil with no trouble
when I'm ready to plant.  I just pull it out and use it for
       MULCH!!!  MULCH!!! MULCH!!!  I DO get weeds from using
hay as mulch. Yucky Johnson grass has gotten into my beds along
with Bermuda.  I have to plan where to plant carrots especially
because of this.  But, beyond that, I just dress those suckers
with 6 inches or more of leaves, grass clippings (I have fescue
grass) and hay  and a good dose of lime (to help them rot),
maybe also cover the worst with paper and ignore them.  They
rot away just fine. To plant, I shove aside the mulch and
plant. As the plant grows, I bring the mulch up around it.
Mulch is so important because basically it encourages microbial
life.  Dry, hot soil isn't as good as nice even temperatured
soil, shaded and protected from erosion.

             Doing these steps has allowed me to boost
productivity.  I can grow much more on less garden space.

     Well, I've gone on enough for one note.  I'll search my
brain for more ideas.  I'm on the CG list because I had hopes
of starting a community garden at a church camp nearby. The
camp is now being sold to developers at pennies on the dollar
so I'm thinking instead of opening up parts of my garden to a
few needy families in the area and show them how to grow their
own food.  They would be refered to me from the operators of
the local food pantry.
       If you are inclined to prayer, I'm praying for the means
to buy the camp and start an environmental education project
there.  The site contains remnants of a quarry site about 5,000
years old.  Its a wonderful spot to use to educate children in
microbiology, archaeology, horticulture, native american
culture, ecology.... you name it.  I have only the funds for
about 1/5th of the price so far.

----- Original Message -----
From: Kirsten Walter <kwalter@abacus.bates.edu>
To: Laura McKenzie <laurabrownmckenzie@worldnet.att.net>
Sent: Sunday, November 21, 1999 12:17 PM
Subject: Re: [cg] Scotts Company & USBG

> hi Laura,
> thank you for expressing your views so eloquently and at the
same time
> respectfully.  i happen to be in complete agreement with you.
however, i
> was wondering if you could take the time to share some of
your helpful
> hints with the rest of us.  I feel the more we share, the
more likely we
> will all be 'successful' at demonstrating by example how
> and in fact dangerous the use of chemicals to grow food is.
please, take
> your time, but if you get a chance, i'd love to hear your
> in search and in service,
> gratefully,
> kirsten walter
> Hands on the Earth
>    we remember where the source
> of our power lies.
> -Terry Tempest Williams

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