A GROWING CONCERN: Get the dirt on soil

SINCE WE TALKED extensively about you growing your own award-winning vegetables, we should certainly talk about how your soil will impact their growth.

With April in full swing, you should be planting a variety of things around your yard, digging lots of holes.

Soil quality is the cornerstone of good gardening, and when growing flowers, or especially vegetables and produce, it is the primary concern. It is the living component of your soil that is absolutely critical to good tilth and production.

That organic matter — substances like compost, cover crops, mulch, roots, leaves and dead life forms — is the means to available nutrients in the soil, for as they decay, minerals are released and hummus is left behind.

So, is there a way you can really screw up this symbiotic relationship in your soil? You betcha!

Spray chemicals on your yard, grass and trees, fumigate your plants, Weed-Be Gone your lawn, use Casoron, Moss-Be-Gone or other herbicides.

These products are actually “life-icides”: If it’s alive, these products will kill it.

But wait, you can even do more harm! Use Scotts Lawn Food on your turf, a 10:10:10 in your garden or any other highly water-soluble fertilizers with urea and salt-based carriers. These types of non-organic fertilizers are formulated to release quickly and travel through the soil. But they release in such overabundant quantity that they kill great numbers of microbes and other life in the soil.

They also dissolve in water so easily that they flow off your property. Every time it rains or your sprinkler system causes water to run off, these harmful products will run off as well.

Here on the North Olympic Peninsula, we all live on a watershed and all of our properties connect to the sea. One of the most prevalent pollution sources in the Puget Sound and Hood Canal is agricultural fertilizer. These fertilizers cause massive algae blooms, depleted oxygen counts and, in large enough quantities, are poisonous themselves.

They also cause your yard to be a crack addict. If the microbes and fungi are suppressed or killed, then available nutrients to the plants dry up. The only way for your plants to get this fixed is through more drugs (artificial fertilizers), so they become addicts to these harmful products.

These chemical death sprays and quick-release fertilizers are popular because they are so fast and effective in the short term. The problem with organic fertilizers and biologic controls is that they do not fit into our cultural expectations — they take two darn long (one to two months) or leave a few bugs or weeds behind.

It will be impossible for you to achieve a fully-integrated micro-environment in your yard by spraying chemicals or using these fertilizers because the intricate web of co-dependent life will be radically altered.

Organic is really the only way to achieve good tilth. And there are so many ways to curtail pestilence using sound practices.

Rotate crops to different areas so problems do not arise in one particular spot.

Water early in the day so your plants and soil surface are dry by midday, robbing habitat for disease and insects.

Remove all dead and dying material as soon as you see it.

These problems spread like wildfire.

Discard bad plants immediately.

Use organic and biological controls, for they greatly increase biodiversity.

Inspect your plants every few days, so you can quickly deal with an infestation — getting it before it overwhelmingly multiplies.

Location is key. Plant the correct plant for the spot.

Stressed plants are far more susceptible to pesticides.

And please, stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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