4 Tips to Get Your Garden Winter Ready
The Indian Summer weather has provided me some much needed time to finish my fall cleanup and get my garden winter ready!
Before leaving on a last of the season camping trip in late September, we madly ran around the yard unhooking water hoses and draining water tanks - just the bare bones ‘must haves’ in case we returned to a snow that stayed until next spring.
It did snow in Cypress Hills AB where we were camped: 72 cm, and we were equipped with only a dustpan (and hammer to chip away the ice) to dig ourselves out! That’s one experience that we’ll remember for many more camping years.
Gardening was a popular topic with fellow campers around the picnic table. So I thought I’d share some of my fall gardening tips, and some that we picked up from our fellow campers:
1. Clip The Plants, Rather than Pull
I clip the plants, rather than pull the plants out of the soil leaving the roots in the soil. The roots provide food for the microorganisms in the soil through the winter, and the stubble above the ground holds moisture and snow.
2. Cover Your Garden Beds
I will also run the lawn mower over the plant material I haul out of the garden along with any leaves I have on hand. I then collect this mulch and put it back onto the garden beds.
If you are unable to mow the plant material you haul out of the garden - then put it into your compost bin. Leaves can just be applied 'as is’.
All the garden beds go into the winter covered with this mulch and/or leaves. No soil is left uncovered. Again, this supports the microbial life in your soil.
In the spring you can remove the mulch, or just plant within it (using the mulch as a ground cover).
Keep your soil covered over the winter and you will be amazed at the improvement in your soil.
3. Plant Cover Crops
You can also plant cover crops in late August and leave the plants to die with the frost, and leave as stubble over the winter.
If you didn't get a chance to plant a cover crop like annual rye this year, you can plan it for next season!
In most cases, you’ll be able to plant right into the stubble the following spring - giving you additional weed protection and better moisture control.
4. An Old World Tip to Ripen Green Tomatoes
From our new friend we made on our fall camping trip, whose 102 year old father still farms 10 acres in Lebanon:
Put green tomatoes in a plastic bag with an apple - the tomatoes will ripen quickly. (Avocados done this way will ripen in 24 hours and won’t be black inside!!)
He also recommended that if you take tomato plant clippings from a plant with tomatoes that are red and place these clippings under a tomato plant that isn’t ripening - it will hasten those tomatoes to turn red. (I’m going to try that one next year, for sure).
Planning for the 2018 Growing Season
With winter on its way and the garden going dormant for the season, it is almost time to start planning for next year's growing season!
If you are a garlic growing fanatic like myself, be sure to check out my microblog, 6 Tips for Growing Great Garlic, it's worth the read and a share to fellow garlic lovers
Until next time my fellow gardeners! And, as always, if you have any questions or would like to request a blog topic, leave a comment or send me an email, gardening is all about sharing knowledge!
So how do I grow powerfully flavourful garlic - often the size of my fist - that usually keeps for an entire year? Here are my 6 Tips for Growing Great Garlic:
1. Start With Good Garlic Seed
Start with good garlic seed, I cannot stress this enough. Like having a good foundation to build your home upon, having good garlic seed will be the difference between decent garlic and great garlic.
I always recommend getting your garlic seed (and any other seeds) at Seedy Saturday, an open seed exchange that encourages the use of open-pollinated and heritage seeds. Heritage seeds protect seed diversity and are not generically modified. If there isn't a Seedy Saturday near you, try your local farmers market or turn to the power of the internet to see if you can find heritage seed online.
2. Plant Your Garlic in the Fall
Fall is the best time to plant garlic.
You can certainly plant garlic in the spring, but fall planted garlic is ready earlier, and it also cuts down on the workload in busy springtime.
3. Don't Fertilize the Garlic
Garlic is a ‘light feeder’ so I usually don’t fertilize unless the garlic is planted in a bed that had a ‘heavy feeder’ growing in it that season.
4. Do Use Compost for Your Garlic
A little compost is good and I always add SoilPerfect Rx VIE granular.The difference between using fertilizer and using compost and/or humics is that compost and humics add organic material to your soil for the garlic to use when it starts growing in the spring. Organic material feeds the microbes in the soil, which cycles nutrients and water to your garlic.
5. Plant Your Garlic Right
My seed bulbs grow quite large and the soil is very productive, so I plant my garlic about 6-7” apart.
Push them down into the soil to about the depth of the knuckle on your thumb.
Give it a good water if the soil needs it. Mulch with leaves or clean straw.
6. Clear the Mulch in the Spring
In the spring, I will clear some of the mulch away - but leaving some on the bed will provide early spring ground cover helping with water retention and discouraging weeds.
Have more questions about growing garlic? Or questions about gardening in general?
Like every gardener, I love talking to people about their gardening experiences, sharing knowledge and tips to help our community grow good food. Post your comments below or send me an email directly will all your garlic questions, or requests for future blog topics.
Follow us on Facebook to keep up-to-date for future blog posts and tips for farmers, gardeners and turf managers alike!
Fairy Rings Got You Running in Circles?
Fairy ring is common on western Canadian lawns. A telltale sign of fairy ring is the presence of toadstools or mushrooms in the effected area especially during times of abundant moisture.
What do fairy rings look like?
This fungus grows in arcs or continuous circles of dark green grasses and grows faster than grasses on either side. These bands can be between four and twelve inches wide with a diameter of the circle varying from three to fifty feet or more.
How Do I Stop Fairy Ring From Spreading?
Fairy ring spreads easily and is very difficult to control. You can utilize some of the control recommendations found online like aerating and drenching the ring with a high nitrogen fertilizer; or you could dig the fairy ring out. The latter treatment requires all the grass and soil to be removed from the fairy ring, at a distance of 12 inches away from the outside and edge of the ring and 12 - 18 inches deep.
How Can I Treat Fairy Ring Organically?
Our clients began experimenting with our soil conditioner SoilPerfect Rx VIE, liberally applying the product on the fairy ring area every 2-3 weeks. Within one season the growth was halted and in some cases, the fairy ring pretty much disappeared with only some of the telltale darker grass showing. Treating the affected area in the second year seemed to discourage any re-emergence of the fairy ring.
Keep Fairy Ring From Spreading!
Whatever method you choose, take care not to infect other areas with the spores or soil from the fairy ring. Make sure you clean your tools thoroughly after any procedure that has made contact with the affected area. Disinfect your gardening tools with a solution of household bleach or Lysol containing chlorine after treating your fairy ring affected areas.
Questions? Contact Our Experts for Help!
Water is a question I am asked about all of the time and there is no one answer that fits all. Many municipalities will tell you to water DEEP, once a week and to a depth of 1” or 2.5 cm. Well, that’s fine and dandy but how do you water deep and why?
We’ve seen many turf properties over the decade that are bone dry when the irrigation system is turned on. In these conditions, most of the water runs off onto the street and down the street drain. The reason is that, like taking a dried-out sponge from under your sink and putting it under the tap, most of the water will run off until the sponge is finally wet. At that point it will take just a little water to rehydrate it.
The soil under your lawn is like that sponge. When it dries out it becomes hard and non-absorbent. If your turf soil is dried out, begin rehydration by watering more frequently and more often to allow the soil to absorb the water in stages. Then when it finally becomes hydrated, (the consistency is of a wrung out sponge), you can reduce the frequency.
So this spring, don’t let your turf soil dry out. It will save you money in the long run.
The last word on spring clean up goes to weeds. Pay attention to what weeds come up this spring. Weeds will have a lot to tell you about your soils. How to deal with them will be for future conversations in upcoming blogs.
Spring turf wake up. Step 5 – Fertilizers and soil amendments best suited for the soil biology and the turf
It’s smart to have the soil microbiology work with you to grow great turf . So it’s important to take into consideration fertilizers and soil amendments best suited for the biology as well as the turf. Not all fertilizers are created equal. Conventional fertilizers are salts and are very damaging to the soil microbiology. Organic fertilizers are best for the soil microorganisms and your decision will pay off in the long run. Roots will grow deeper so the turf will weather extreme conditions better. Soil structure and soil pH will improve and nutrient, water and nitrogen uptake is improved. An added bonus is the growth flush typically seen with conventional fertilizers is eliminated, so you’ll be mowing less.
Our SoilPerfect Rx Soil Care fertilizer and soil amendments are designed to support the soil microorganisms, particularly the foundational levels. The soil microorganisms found at the first two levels are responsible for key benefits that we as growers can harness making our job easier and plants healthier, vibrant and resilient. Without these microorganisms nature wouldn’t have a mechanism to process organic matter and consequently no food for plants or for the higher levels of the food chain!
By addressing the entire ecosystem in the soil – herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides can be reduced or eliminated. A healthy, functioning soil will grow a healthy, vibrant turf; out-competing weeds for space and nutrients. You will save on irrigation costs too because of better soil structure, texture and aeration.
Spring usually provides the best conditions to overseed and top dress since we can usually count on a few good spring rains to help with germination. Wait until power raking and aeration has been done before overseeding. Overseed with a quality seed that has a diverse mixture of grasses. Our seed of choice is comprised of primarily fescues, perennial ryes and some Kentucky (10-40%). This mixture tolerates most weather conditions. Overseed first; and cover with ¼” top dressing materials. For heavily used sports fields, ask us about our high-end Entophytic non-irrigated sports turf grass seed mix.
Top dress materials should be 60% topsoil; 20% compost and 20” sand; or 80% topsoil and 20% compost. Don’t use peat moss under any circumstances. It just does more harm than good.
Seed needs to be in contact with soil to germinate. On areas that require a lot of overseeding, cover the newly seeded area with burlap cloth to keep the seed moist and in place. For large commercial projects, there is a product called Soil Lynx Mulch that can be added with the seed to offer protection and moisture retention.
Water every day for at least seven days until the perennial rye comes up. Then, water as required keeping the soil moist to prevent the seeds from drying out (typically every two-three days). The best time to water is first thing in the morning. The water will have a chance to get into the soil, and evaporate off the lawn so conditions are not created for disease, which can happen with nighttime watering.
3. Power raking – Along with mechanical aeration, power raking the lawn is another spring clean up item on most folks to do list. The purpose of power raking is to remove dead grass from the last year, and to stimulate new growth. Think of it as giving your lawn a massage.
My dad would have us go out with a dethatcher and rake the lawn every spring. It was hard work, and I was the one who needed a massage after a couple of days of raking. Today most folks hire a contractor to mechanically power rake. The equipment will have metal or rubber tines. Observing many lawns after treatment, it appears the rubber tines are gentler on the grass. I don’t think it really matters what type of tine is used. However it is important power raking isn’t overdone. Whether you hand rake or power rake, be careful not to be too aggressive as rough treatment affects the lawn’s recovery time. I’ve seen properties after an aggressive treatment that left all the grass crowns exposed and roughed up, making it difficult for the grass to withstand spring temperature and moisture changes.
Newer lawns shouldn’t have thatch build up; so wait for three years for seeded lawns and at least two years for newly sodded lawns before power raking.
The core sample will also tell you about thatch conditions. Thatch is the spongy organic material. How much thatch is built up? Measure and record its thickness. (No thatch isn’t good either. So make a note). If the thatch is more than ¾” it needs to be addressed as it’s an indicator that the soil microorganisms need help to do their job. Once again, our SoilPerfect Rx Soil Care program can help you improve thatch conditions.
Next up… overseeding and top dressing. Watch for it early next week!
Spring is so late here in central Alberta! Snow is still covering our grass and gardens. A far different scene from last year’s early spring and snow melt. But when it comes to looking after your lawn regardless the conditions, you will be spring cleaning. (Though around here it will likely be closer to May 15 before we can get anything done.)
There are some things you can do to help your turf recover from winter hibernation and encourage the grass to green up and grow quickly. So take a moment to review your best practices, keeping in mind it is the soil microbiology that is your greatest asset and ally:
1. Survey winter damage to the turf – Look for evidence of snow mold, mice activities, and winter kill. A vigorous brushing with a fan rake is generally all that is needed to lift and clear away debris. Make a note of damage to the root zone. You will need to overseed and top dress these areas.
2. Aeration – The purpose of aeration is to physically create holes in the soil to give air and water access to the root zone. The cores can be left on the lawn for the soil biology to break down; or if you don’t like the look you can remove the core. As with power raking, wait three years before aerating seeded lawns, and at least two years for newly sodded lawns.
Timing of aeration is everything. The ground needs to be moist so irrigate a couple of days before the scheduled aeration treatment (not the day of) if it is required. Generally I can count on the soil being moist so I prefer to aerate in the spring though it can be done in the fall.
Other than mechanical aeration, there are strategies you can incorporate into your practices that encourage the soil biology to address compaction issues. We have had phenomenal success in reducing compaction, and eliminating the need for mechanical aeration with our SoilPerfect Rx VIE. Applying this soil amendment in spring and fall for a couple of years will do wonders with compaction issues.
If you do mechanically aerate, it’s a good time to evaluate the condition of the core. The core can tell you a lot about the condition of your lawn and how well the biology and your management practices are working. In an ideal world a 4” tine aeration will give you a 4” core depth to evaluate. Whatever the depth, measure it. Ask yourself, “from the bottom up how much of that core is soil”? Are roots growing in the soil? Can’t get a good core sample? This is an indicator of compaction and poor soil conditions for soil microorganisms. The core sample will also tell you about thatch conditions. Thatch is the spongy organic material found between the soil and the leaf.
More about thatch and what to look for in my next blog – coming right up!
According to Cornell researchers, soil microorganisms need electrons for everything they do, biologically and chemically. Biochar, a highly porous charcoal byproduct of heating biomass in the absence of oxygen, is a favorite source for soil microorganisms looking for electrons. In fact, soil microorganisms seem to thrive in the presence of Biochar!
They do so with the help of carbon to create ‘high definition’ systems to move electrons through the soil; an important and under- appreciated known function that has huge benefits on plant growth.
Biochar can be an important tool to recover severely depleted soils and in areas where organic resources are scarce, and water and fertilizer access inadequate. According to the International Biochar Initiative, its primary use is to increase carbon concentration in soils and for atmospheric carbon capture and storage.
Other benefits using Biochar include:
Want to learn more about Biochar? Give us a shout!
People visiting our tradeshow booth are always impressed by the photo display of the roots on this rye plant. We love referring to this marvel as a great example of a root’s potential.
As with so many good things in life, everyday phenomena like plant roots are under-valued, misunderstood, and often taken for granted. Perhaps it’s because so much of what goes on under our feet is undetectable and hidden from our senses. Lots of folks think of roots as “that end of the plant we stick in the soil to hold the plant up”, or, “that end of the plant for the plant to uptake fertilizers”. Sadly lost in these definitions is the deeper appreciation of plant root contributions to our health and the health of the Earth especially in terms of carbon storage, climate change mitigation, plant and soil nourishment, and preventing erosion.
Hidden from our senses is the possibility of storing vast amounts of atmospheric carbon in the soil. However getting carbon to ‘flow’ to the soil requires plant roots, soil microorganisms, and soil management system to support it. The two must co-exist as it is through their partnership that carbon is transferred through plant, plant roots, and then to the soil microorganisms. Somewhere between 85 to 90 percent of the nutrients plants require for healthy growth are acquired via this carbon exchange, that is, where plant root exudates provide energy (carbon) to microbes in order to obtain minerals and trace elements otherwise unavailable to the plant. So encouraging carbon exchange is a good thing and with the right soil management system, colonies of carbon rich microorganisms (bacterial and fungi) would be incented to set up permanent residence along the root site.
A handful of farmers have put this system into practice. Carbon farming is focused on improving soil carbon content each year, and includes pasture management practices that mimic natural grazing cycles of intensive grazing and pasture grass recovery. Managed well, this system sets up carbon rich soil microorganisms for long term success. Residencies can establish because perennial grasses root structures make wonderful partners for soil microorganisms to hang out and set up shop. Just look at root structure on these perennial grasses. Root growth of 8’ to 14’ is impressive!
Armed with knowledge about these root systems and recent field research on carbon farming by folks like Dr. Richard Teague, I am encouraged about the possibilities for prairie grasslands and intensive multi paddock pasture management systems to sequester carbon at deep soil levels. It’s a win for farmers and a win for the planet towards resolving the atmospheric C02 pressures. As Dr. Teague and local farmers showed us at the Western Canadian Holistic Management & Organic Alberta Conferences this February, turning atmospheric carbon into soil carbon results in huge benefits: on soil and soil structure, influencing soil water-holding capacity and water quality, reducing soil erosion, with greater crop productivity. All this with the tools and resources already available on farms namely: sunlight, rain, plants, livestock, countless microbes, and well-directed human management.