Fall Gardening Time is here!
I know, we're not out of the triple digits yet, and only a handful of folks have actually gotten any rain since forever. But we have to get started because we know at some point, the bottom is going to drop out of this heat bubble and bring us rain, cooler temps and the ability to grow again, right before we get a freeze.
Welcome to gardening in the extremes.
What products do I recommend?
Below, within my commentary, I will include my recommendations. Something new for me, and an easy way to help the farm make a little extra ching-a-ling, is for you to shop directly off the blog.
If you buy through some of these links within 24 hours of clicking on them, Eden's will make a tiny little bit of commission from Amazon. And if enough of you do this, it'll help. Every little bit helps. You'll still be serviced through Amazon, no difference in the price, nothing changes there. products you might (hopefully) otherwise buy here if I was still able to stock the shelves like I used to. So, thanks in advance!
There are hundreds or more products out there to choose from anymore. The ones I recommend, are my suggested items with which to stock your garden pantry, because I have some kind of history with them. Most are items I've stocked in the past. A few I still have on the shelf for special orders. If I can't find the specific brand of amendment, I'll simply link you to the right page of several choices for the amendment I'm suggesting.
This is a way I can "sell" the products I've carried, and successfully used myself, without needing the deep pockets it takes to stock the store and the manpower and time it takes ship things out. All of which takes away from my farming time, which right now is my main priority as it has been for many years.
I do hope to one day provide a full service brick and mortar shop again. I love helping folks! And with the new development plans rolling forward, maybe this old farm house will actually become the garden shop I intended for it to be in the first place!
But for right now, let's see how this works. You shop from home and have everything delivered and be ready to tackle that gardening project as soon as the weather breaks! I can reach folks too far away to come to the shop. I'm always an email or phone call/text away for questions, too.
So let's get started!
Soil is the most important component to any healthy garden. Whether you're growing flowers or edibles, your soil needs to be alive!
That's not always easy to do with products you buy in bags or bottles. So I always suggest using home made compost from things like;
- table scraps
- chopped up leaves
- grass clippings and weeds (hopefully before they have gone to seed)
- manures of all creatures great or small (minus human - I don't use that, although I know some people who do)
- deceased critters - roadkill, culled or deceased fowl, etc. (I, again, know ranchers that compost entire cows!)
Now, the average home won't generate THAT much compost. So chances are you'll need to buy some additional organic material (OM) to add to your garden bed, especially after a hot summer where most of the prior season's OM has disintegrated - quite literally.
Like POOF! I KNOW I put 2 inches of composted mulch in there, but it's all sand again!
It happens. Gardening and farming are an on-going process, not a once and done. So get used to that. Each season you're going to need to add OM. Do a little soil experiment. All you really need is a large jar, a little dish soap, a ruler and a sharpie.
And whether you decide, (and are able to), simply add to the top of the bed, or need to turn the soil over to bury newly emerging unwanted growth (i.e. weeds), you need to add OM to the soil before you plant. Check with your local municipality for low cost fresh compost. If push comes to shove and you need to buy it bagged, add as much of the home made compost as you can. Otherwise, get something alive in there. Be it worm castings (which I highly recommend), which we'll discuss later, or some freshly made compost tea. (More on that elsewhere). But just remember, something that's been bagged or bottled and sitting on a shelf for weeks, months or longer, is probably not still alive.
On top of OM, if you've planted and harvested from that plot, you've removed nutrients that need to be replenished.
That's why we grow food, to eat it, and get the nutrients from the soil into our bodies. So if you're eating the harvest, you're going to need to replace the nutrients - for them to be there again. That's just common sense. There's not an infinite supply of all things in the soil, especially if you're harvesting.
Yes, soil organisms help replenish, too. But we're gardening in N. Texas, not generally under ideal growing conditions, and we want results. This season. You need to feed your soil, or your plants won't feed you well. It's pretty simple.
So to best determine which nutrients you need, and which ones you may not, I recommend doing a simple soil test, at the very least. I pushed back on this for years, because I thought I didn't need a test so long as I added compost. My very seasoned farmer friend Beverly finally got it through my thick skull that in order to be a better farmer, a soil test was a no-brainer.
For one thing, sometimes your soil is missing key nutrients you just didn't think you needed. Other times you could be adding things you don't need to add. Too much of a good thing, isn't always good. It can throw things out of whack. Too much of one nutrient, can lock up the intake of another.
Additionally, you may be spending extra money on amendments you don't need. So why guess? Use that extra money on more seeds or plants, or on the amendments you do need so you have a better harvest. And sell or give away the bounty!
There are various sizes of soil test kits. Here is the one I used and was pleased with. You can get this kit to test 40x, 80x or even 200x. Whereas 200 might be overkill for the average home gardener, I do suggest a unique test for each different area of your garden, and here is why.
My main planting area is about 2 acres, including the high tunnel.
On paper, I have it separated into sections and I plant different crops in each section, each season. I wouldn't expect each section, each having grown different crops, to all need the same thing, each season.
So, if you have 6 raised beds and a spot over by the driveway and another in the front yard, and you plant various things in each, that's multiple tests - each season. You'll go through the 40x test faster than you think.
Now, if you only have a little area, a few pots, etc., then maybe you do only need a small kit, like this. Both have you adding reagents to the soil, which provides a more accurate test than just a simple soil probe.
With these tests, you are actually adding specific amounts of the various test solutions, or reagents, into tubes of some kind, mixed with soil. Then, you use the included color chart to compare the color the mixture comes out looking like to determine levels of N, P and K.
If you have ever measured the chemistry in a swimming pool, you can do this, too. It's science, but it's not rocket science. I promise. (OK, so if you are color blind, it might be a bit of a challenge. Get a friend to read the results for you.)
On a side note, for a first time soil test on newly turned ground that's never been fertilzed, you might consider packing up and sending some soil off to your favorite university (in Texas, most folks use TX A&M), or a private lab, like Texas Plant and Soil Labs, both of which can give you a much more detailed breakdown of both macro and micro nutrients. They'll provide a detailed list of suggested additions. Commercial growers generally do this - at least once a year.
I'll go into how to do a soil test a bit more in another post. For now, just know to avoid sampling areas such as small gullies, slight field depressions, terrace waterways, or unusual areas like where your dog does its business on a regular basis. (Hey my mom had the BIGGEST tomatoes on the block from the area the dog poop went into over the winter)
From TX A&M's directions here is how to collect a soil sample;
- Using a trowel or similar tool, scrape away any non-decomposed plant tissue and materials.
- Next, cut a core or divot 6 inches deep into the soil and place soil in a clean plastic container. (Do not use your bare hands to break up soil)
- Repeat this step 8 to 10 times in the lawn or garden which is being considered for testing.
- Air-dry soil if sample feels wet to the touch.
- When sampling fertilized areas, avoid sampling directly in fertilized band.
Then you follow the directions of the soil test kit. Easy peasy.
Now, once armed with your soil test results, you should have a better idea of which soil amendments you're going to need to focus on.
If you need Nitrogen (N) you can add it from a lot of different sources including various types of manures, "meals", or blends of fertilizer already mixed, derived of those things.
A few choices could be
Chicken Manure (Composted) (we use in-house aged/composted chicken manure from our flocks)
Cow Manure (Composted)
Rabbit manure (Composted)
Goat or Sheep manure (Composted)
or my personal favorite - Horse Manure - again, fully composted - from a local stable
We need to age/compost the manures for various reasons, none the least of which is to kill all of the weed seeds that are consumed in the daily diet of these these animals. Putting down fresh manure can be "hot" in some cases, burning the roots of the plants. And, in some cases, it can be unsanitary and potentially dangerous due to the potential for pathogens in some manures.
The adding of fresh manures to soil should only be done well ahead of planting (90-120 days before harvest depending on the crop) so it can be broken down into the soil by the organisms.
If you need Phosphorus (P), there are fewer sources and usually they are bone or rock based.
Phosphorous soil amendments generally come in the form of a bone meal, or soft rock phosphate. NOT super, or triple super. Just regular rock phosphate. Again, these are products I'm suggesting. Most are the exact brands, but if you choose a different brand, just make sure the ingredient is the same and/or it's OMRI approved if you're striving to grow using clean products.
Potassium (K), is also a macro-nutrient because plants can take up large quantities of K each season. Some freebie places you can find it is wood ash and compost that is heavy on the banana peels. More likely you'll add crushed products like sul-po-mag.
Let's say your soil is low on
everything. The tests came back pretty much devoid of nutrients.
Might it make more sense for you to just get a nicely blended multi-purpose fertilizer? Sure. I've used and sold Maestro Gro's Texas Tee fertilizer for over a decade! (And I still special order this for pick up here at the farm. It's a little expensive to ship a 40lb bag)
But I gotta tell you, it's going to be heavy on the N, because it's primarily sold as a lawn fertilizer.
So for fall, lettuces, greens, cabbage - go for it. I'll put in an order for fall pretty soon, so let me know. It runs about $40 a bag or so.But for things you're trying to get to bloom, like broccoli, cauliflower, late crop of squash or fall tomatoes, I do not suggest it, unless you're really low on N. Too much N, and you're likely to get a lot of leafy foliage, and not a lot of fruit. It's a good start, but if you're soil needs P and K, too, there are better options.
Another great product that helps add those micro-nutrients that the home tests don't cover, is Azomite. You probably don't need to use it every season, but once a year won't hurt.
Once your plants are starting to come up, a little secret to help them grow and stay healthy is to spray liquid fertilzer onto the leaves. This is known as "foliar feeding". The cells in the leaves of the plants can intake trace amounts of nutrients, plus, whatever runs off the plant into the soil is absorbed, too. But the use of foliar sprays has been a long used technique. Neptune's Harvest (buy direct) or via amazon - Fish emulsion, liquid seaweed, or some combination thereof, are what I suggest.
Here is another brand I like. Medina Garrett Juice Foliar Spray or Soil Soak - Gallon or Quart
That should get you started! Stock your pantry.
Buy your seeds or starts (Texas Tested Seeds & Plants), or your local organic nursery - if you can find one.
As soon as it rains a bit, you can turn your soil and add your amendments, top it off with mulch (which can be more compost that's just not quite finished yet, like decomposing mulch - but not so much it's going to rob the soil of N.)
And thanks for ordering your amazon stuff through the blog. If this seems to generate some revenue, I'll do more posts like this. I get frequent calls asking for suggestions - this way I can help you, and you can help me. :)
Eat Your Food - Naturally!