Getting Discouraged- Need Your Best Tips

bettyd_z7_va(7)April 17, 2012

First - I have to say our soil started as shallow,dead,hard,clay. All of the original great topsoil was pushed off to put the house and plant grass. (By the original homeowners)

Last year I tilled in composted leaves from our county landfill.

I've tilled in leaves and horse manure this year and spread lime powder,greensand and rock phosphate before tilling.

I want to have a rich, organic vegetable garden with dedicated beds that I can use without using a tiller every year.

My husband is NOT in agreement with me and we have endless disagreements. He wants to just throw on some 10-10-10 fertilizer and be done with it.

With grocery store veggie prices going up and our fixed income, I really need to find a way to grow some quality veggies to eat and can/freeze this summer and try to have some fall/winter crops this year.

So, PLEASE share the best tips for enriching my garden soil as quickly as possible.

There is an improvement over the last couple of years, but I still have a long way to go.

There is not much money available to purchase amendments, so I would really appreciate hearing about which purchased amendments worked best for you. I'm thinking about buying a 44 lb bag of Azomite to spread over the garden.

I'm still haven't gotten the hang of making good compost yet, but I'm working on it.

Any links to great discussions would be much appreciated.

I'm so tired of hearing about how 10-10-10 has worked all of his life so why can't we just keep doing the same old- same old!

We are both 58 years old and he has some damage from being crushed in a machine at work in '08. I will be doing the majority of lifting and digging etc.

I'm tired and need some encourage today!



P.S. It's not all bad, my 2nd year asparagus bed is great, started a dedicated strawberry patch and a blueberry garden so far this year.

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bluegoat_gw(Zone 3b)

This may encourage you.

Here is a link that might be useful: Better than Organic

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 10:10AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

g'day betty,

best no to try and be master of the soil or rule dominion, cut out some of the back breaking work, go for raised beds you will have what your plants need, sell the tiller and invest that money wisely into no-till/n0-dig gardens.

we also don't buy fertilisers on rare occasions use yard or stable manures from the farm, but our medium is fed from using green type mulches and tucking our kitchen scraps in as well as recycling vege' plants where they once stood.

and at great risk i suggest you throw down a good dose of gypsum and if the PH is acid some dolomite at the prescribed rate, then you'll be cooking with gas.


Here is a link that might be useful: lens straw bale garden

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 1:15PM
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bluegoat, Thanks for the link. Facinating read! So, I believe I'm on the right track by adding minerals.

Did you have your soil tested and add the needed minerals they advised?

len, thanks for the link to your garden I had already been there and enjoyed learning from your site.

I accidentally found out how much straw helps the garden when my grandson and I used a bale of stray to hide the sunflower seeds from the squirrels in his sunflower garden last year.

When I prepared his garden bed for planting this year, it was very rich and loose. I will be using MUCH more straw as mulch and incorperating it into the soil and compost as well.

I'm also looking for the spent mushroom compost to use as an amendment in my garden. It doesn't look very promising in my area. I may have to grow the mushroons to get the compost!

Thanks again,

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 1:56PM
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Use whatever amendments you can find, not buy. Unless your plants are showing a distinct deficiency, you shouldn't need fertilizers, or minerals. Plant and see what happens.

Stop tilling. The critical part is mulching. Do lasagna gardening or raised beds or the "Ruth Stout" method of really thick mulch. Plant a few really deep-rooted things like Okra and Squash to penetrate into the clay. Cut them off at ground level after they are dead and leave the roots to rot (and open channels in the clay).

A couple of years of thick mulch and my desert clay-dirt went from needing a pick to dig holes to being able to use a hand trowel. I did not till it at all.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 4:17PM
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Hi Betty -- great tips above. If you still need more encouragement, I've got a couple ideas to add.

Let your husband know that the 10 10 10 will kill all the great soil food web critters that you've been cultivating (my husband goes around saying "save the nematodes!" -- the beneficial nematodes, of course)

It sounds like you do have a source of horse manure. All you need to do is lay it on top in the fall -- no need to till. I also get extra buckets of the stuff and use it to augment the compost. Sometimes stables have spoiled hay you can add to your compost, too. What ever free stuff you can gather, throw it in the compost. I don't really think there is a "hang" to making great compost -- just leave it alone and it will rot.

Also on the freezing end of things. Since zucchini are so prolific, I was very happy to find that they DO freeze well. Best methods I've found: chop, steam and mash, then cool quickly and freeze in a bag or container. Great in soup this way. Or chop and steam and freeze -- great in soup or frittata. Or grate it raw and freeze (even the big ones) -- works in bread or frittata.

Hope you have a great year!


    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 12:32AM
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Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)

What does your soil test say you need? Don't be wasting money on additives that you don't need.

There's clayey soil, and there's gumbo -- which do you have?

You've been working 'uphill', starting with practically nothing, and it sounds like you've been making good headway. Don't overdo the organic matter, though, as it can actually raise your nitrogen levels to the point where you start having pest damage. Nowhere is Balance more important than in the soil.

Have you had a chat with your local Master Gardener? Your taxes pay for the program, so ask them questions!

Don't focus on mushroom compost -- I got a load and wasn't much impressed. When they say 'spent' mushroom compost, thats exactly what it seemed to be: worn out. If it's nearby for the taking, fine, it's organic, but there may be many other sources of organic matter closer, cheaper.

Just remember that Ma Nature takes about 100 years to make about an inch of forest topsoil, so I don't think you're doing too badly. Yes, it does take some time and effort, but just consider it an investment.

Husbands often need additional training. Whacking him in the head with a 50# bag of 10-10-10 might give him a beneficial attitude adjustment.


Here is a link that might be useful: Local VA Master Gardener offices

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 2:08AM
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The truth is that very modest amounts of synthesized salt fertilizer in a live soil with plenty of OM will not do much harm and will of course stimulate crop production. Urine and wood ash are examples of natural fertilizers that are mostly salts, and they also should be used carefully. Urine should be applied dilute or sequestered by some absorbent material like straw or sawdust, and wood-ash should be applied lightly if used every year. It is hard to beat the effect of hardwood ashes applied to the rows when planting legumes.

The N ferts have the highest salt index and it is free and chronic use of those absent additions of OM that "burn" out soils. If I was to add synthetic salt fertilizer to compost, I would use something with lower N, like 4-6-8. Much better, I would use sul-po-mag, which is rated for organic practice, and has no nitrate or nitrite or phosphate at all, it is 22% K and 11% sulphur. K and S are the nutrients most likely to be low in a garden that has been used for any time.

Weak soil does indeed need a lot of help to get into super live condition, and the process takes years. Compost and composted manures give the most help at first. Straw or hay and urine make the best compost for vegetables, which is why animals bedded in hay or straw make the best manure. Now that pretty much all horses are bedded in pine shavings the stall sweepings are not nearly as good, though still better than nothing especially if it has been piled for a year or two. Things that are typically available free take a lot more time to be useful, things like wood chips, leaves, etc. Those are best composted in large piles for years before adding to the garden. Landscapers and tree crews might be willing to dump off at your place without charge.

If I were in your position, on a very tight budget, poor soil and a need to produce food, I would get hold of some compost, maybe buy a couple yards in bulk, and fortify it with a fruit tree type chem fert, a 4-6-8 with some traces. That will do the least damage from the salts while kicking the system into a higher gear to build biomass.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 7:33AM
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I'm feeling much better today, thanks to all of you and several other things.

1)I woke up to the sound of much needed rain! Yea!!

2)DH helped me and the grandsons plant pole beans on the rustic tee-pees in their garden and never once mentioned 10-10-10!

3)I found that lazygardens and I have the same birthday! How cool is that!

Now, Back on topic.

lazygardens - WOW! From a pick to a hand trowel. That is amazing! I am mulching until I run out of materials. It really helps to deter the weeds. I'm using newspaper covered in leaves and free woodchips to cover the paths between the rows and beds. Hopefully, by next year it will decompose enough that I can rake it into the beds to help loosen the soil. I need to get some more loads of wood chips this year. I'm almost out.
Even though I love my old tiller, I'm looking forward to not having to use it. It sure wears me out.
I never thought about planting the deep rooted veggies to help open up the tight clay soil. I will try it. Was planning on lots of squash anyway.
I already have the lasagna gardening book. I've started laying cardboard around the edges of the garden to kill the grass and start some flowerbeds to draw in the beneficial insects.
From the small harvest and the bland colors of foliage on the plants in my garden last year I believe I do have deficiencies in my soil that need amendments to correct.
I want to do whatever has to be done to make sure the soil isn't the reason for low harvest amounts.

Elisa, I will try your suggestion about the 10-10-10. I can just hear him now, "Nema-what?!?" lol
I will be using the horse manure this fall on top of the beds I'm not using for winter crops. We have been having such mild winters here in Central Va lately that I'm going to try some of Eliot Coleman's suggestions for a Four-Season Harvest. I love that book. Makes me dream BIG!
When it comes to compost, I don't have patience to wait for it to rot. (Shhh...don't tell DH I admitted I don't have patience! lol)
I'm trying to learn better ways to speed it up! I even talked my son into "watering" it naturally after I read that urine would help it decompose.
Last year my zucchini and squash plants were looking pretty good until the squash vine borers found them. It's getting pretty bad when you can't even grow zucchini!
The neighbors gave me some large ones and I shredded and froze them. After making zucchini bread, I have everyone begging for more, so I really want a large zucchini harvest.
Chopped and mashed zucchini in soup...what a great way to sneak nutrients past the picky eaters! I must try the frittata with it. Sounds delish. Thanks!

Sue, I'm ashamed to say I haven't had my soil tested, yet. After doing lots of research I realize how much I need it tested.
I actually took the Master Gardeners course at a local college many years ago. I learned a lot that has helped thru the years, but disagree with their practice of telling folks to use herbicides and pesticides. That's what happens when they are largely financed by the companies that market the stuff, as they are here. But, that's a whole other discussion.
I have sticky when wet and brick hard when dry red clay.
As poor as my soil is I'm sure it will take at least a few years to overdo the organic matter, but thanks for the tip on the pest damage from too much nitrogen.
I'm glad you shared your experience with the spent mushroom compost. We don't have a local source and I was considering driving a while to buy some. I think I will hold off on that plan now.
I laughed out loud when I got to your best suggestion - the Husband attitude adjustment! You are so right. They do often need additional training. He is so lucky that I'm not strong enough to swing a 50# bag of 10-10-10!!

pnbrown, My daughter uses a wood stove for heat in the winter, so I have access to small amounts of wood-ash. I will try a dusting with my legumes. Maybe used as a side-dressing?
DH also found a reasonably priced, local source for straw on Craig's list.

I will keep looking for some good compost in bulk. I was just looking at fruit tree fert on Amazon yesterday. We just planted 8 peach trees saturday.

Please keep these ideas coming and I will try to not write a book next time!

Thanks so much,

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 12:47PM
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I am glad that rain is headed our way. dreadful dry here.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 4:32PM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

Betty, I'm cautious about using wood ash as it's extremely alkaline, but it looks like VA has generally pretty acid soil.
I second the lab soil-test recommendation. Even if it's only done once, it'll give you a good idea of what's going on. Make sure the technicians know you aim to be organic, or they might say "chuck some 10-10-10 at it"!
I'm not into tilling and I am into mulch. A permanent, thick layer everywhere there's no root crops makes a massive difference to moisture retention, soil quality and weed prevention.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 9:06PM
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feijoas, with some exceptions all of eastern north america has naturally acidic soil due to the high precipitation. Without the aid of powdered limestone and/or hardwood ashes it is difficult to produce crops other than the acid loving ones and even they are not very productive at ph 5 or lower which is not uncommon in sandy soils.

Betty, you say it is a "shallow" clay soil, so what is the subsoil? Also clayey? I think once you get the OM percentage well up moisture retention is one thing you won't have to worry about. A nice thing about heavy soil is the wood shavings are much more palatable to it.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 7:43AM
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Thanks feijoas, If I use the wood-ash it will be just a dusting. Also, I'll be sure to state on the soil test form that I'm requesting recommendations for organic amendments only.

Otherwise, I can hear my DH now, "See, I told you all it needed was some 10-10-10!" I might be tempted to use my shovel to whack him in the head! Not really. He is a good husband. It will just take some time to convert him. Our garden at our former house was almost perfect when we moved and I had to start over from scratch.

I had to use a tiller in the beginning because I couldn't get a shovel in the rock-hard soil. I look forward to the time I can gently turn in amendments so as not to disturb my wonderful earthworms! It may be as soon as next spring with this garden. They were prolific in the horse manure I brought home.

I'm also starting a brand new garden this year and I am going to pile leaves, shredded paper, compost and manure on top of the ground and wait for the earthworms to do their magic because the ground is so hard the tiller just sits on top of it and turns. It can't even break the surface!

pn, The shallow clay is covering a rock ledge. Amendments have to be added to increase soil depth so there will be enough room for the vegetable roots to grow.

We made some 4x4 raised beds year before last using the squarefoot gardening method, but for the amount of harvest I want it just isn't financially possible right now.

I do want raised beds, but will have them longer than 4'.

Keep your best tips coming, folks. I'm getting excited!

Thanks again,

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 12:44PM
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I know how you feel with the husband issue. I simply cannot get it through his head about organic gardening. One year I worked on a compost heap for months, grew my own seeds and sprayed for bugs with soap. I went out one day and the WHOLE garden was dusted with 7 dust. I wanted to cry.

This year I told him if he put one chemical on the garden I would mix it up in his spaghetti and call it parm cheese! LOL

I too am on a fixed income and so have to get whatever I need for free or cheap.

Here are my suggestions, I hope they help.

I get all of my "green" for my compost from dumpsters behind either buffet resturants or Aldi's. I asked the managers and they have all said OK. This along with grass from cutting the lawn pretty much takes care of it.

For my "brown" I get free coffee grounds from Starbucks. They always have tons. Its already roasted, heated and clean. I also use newspaper and cardboard. The newspaper I tear up in strips when I watch tv at night and the cardboard I soak in water in a tub outside and then just tear it up in pieces.

We can get free mulch and compost from the landfill here in Chattanooga so I have several truck loads but I let it sit for several weeks to several months before I use it. A nice hot summer or covering it with plastic helps cook out in toxins or junk that I don't want in it.

I make potato beds with cardboard from the post office, they have free big shipping boxes. I just add more cardboard as the plants grow and pile on more dirt or compost as they get bigger and bigger.

I hope any or all of these tips help. As far as the 10-10-10 goes, just keep an eye out when you see it around and replace it with baking soda............Hmmmm

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 5:04PM
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dolzadell, thanks for sharing some great tips. I live in a small town that doesn't have a buffet, but you did remind me of the over-ripe fruits and veggies at the local grocery stores. I will have to check with the produce managers. I'm there real often. I seem to always have problems getting enough "greens".

The closest Starbucks is 20 miles away, but I do go to the city anyway at least every couple of weeks and could hit at least 2 almost across the street from each other while I'm there.

My husband disagrees with me on the 10-10-10, but he humors me (even though I did like the baking soda idea), but he would never use a pesticide or herbicide on my garden because he would fear for his life! He knows how strongly I feel about them.

I'm glad you took care of that problem before it started this year! lol

Somebody beat me to the free composted leaves at the landfill this spring, but I sweet-talked the elderly gentleman there and he is supposed to call me as soon as they get some more.

I didn't know about the post office having free cardboard shipping boxes. I'll hit them tomorrow.

Thanks again,

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 12:37AM
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I did sort of the lasagna method for my vegetable garden, first some kitchen vegetable scraps, then a layer of cardboard, then a thick layer of newspaper, then some composted garden soil.

I've added alfalfa meal to my lawn and all garden area's as the worms love the stuff and it helps get the clay broken up. Earthworms also love paper so I use it for mulch before I add my cypress mulch.

I also foliar feed with seaweed and fish emulsion.

It's my first year in this new soil that is hard and horrible. With all the composting ingredients, alfalfa, etc., it is coming along nicely.

I'm not using any chemical fertilizer because I don't want to upset the worm action I need so desperately in order to get the dirt pliable.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 2:13AM
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HIWTHI, Thanks so much for sharing what you are doing and for letting me know that this is your first year with the same type of hard soil that I have.

I had purchased a large bag of alfalfa meal several years ago when I was trying to save my eaten down (by the large deer population) roses. I had read that it was awesome for nourishing roses.

I didn't realize that worms loved it too, that it helps break up hard clay and therefore my veggies would also benefit from it. What a DUH moment!

I have access to shredded paper that I mixed into my garden soil to rot and help loosen and build shallow soil. It makes me happy to know I'm bringing life back to it by drawing in the earthworms. That is why I don't want to use a tiller any more. It would just cut to pieces the earthworms that my additions have lured into my garden.

I love seaweed and use it dry and will also try the foliar feed this growing season.

I have to share my scary episode with using fish emulsion a couple of years ago. While planting some flower bulbs I decided to add some fish emulsion to the bottom of the planting hole to feed my bulbs and give the roots a good start.
The next day I was showing the area to my young grandson and something had dug the bulbs up and thrown them out of the hole! We thought it was a territorial squirrel until we noticed the bear footprints all around the area! The prints also solved the mystery of what dug up and stole the fish bones and parts that I had buried in the garden after reading about the indians burying the fish bones to feed the soil!

Needless to say I don't use fish emulsion now!

Thanks again for the encouragement and tips,

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 2:30PM
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How big is your garden/s?

If you soil is a hard as it is, do you know someone with a small tractor?

Trying to build on top of what would be sub-soil here is misery that can be reduced.
For starting, and this is just for starting, you would save your-self a lot of grief if you found some one with a small tractor and plow; put manure, I prefer sheep, deep, I mean six to eight inches deep in the fall and had him/her plow it under leaving leaving it as it till spring.
Unless you are in a hurry, it would be ideal to put another layer on in the spring, plow it under, again
and leave it till the next year.
If any odor would bother you, you could cover it with mulch.
This would give you a soil base as deep as the furrows were plowed.

I have in the past and will again this fall put several trailer 4x8 loads of sheep manure on my garden in the fall and turn it over with a sand shovel leaving it looking like a plowed field minus the furrows.
Till it freezes it kind of reminds me of the days when a dairy farm was operating on the edge of town five blocks straight South.

Any odor depends on how fresh the manure is and I use at least one trailer of genuine sloppy stuff.
This would give you a base to build up on that was not just nasty clay.

For years people have said to me all you need is a little 10-10-10, which has never made sense, even though many books by professionals say the same thing.

I have and still at times do use granular fertilzer but it has never been 10-10-10.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 12:25AM
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I don't know about where you live, RpR, but the days of the 25 hp tractor and one-bottom plow are long gone around here. 65 - 85 hp with 3-bottom plow is what most small and mid-size growers use. That is a lot of machine to be driving for miles to plow somebody's backyard garden for 5 minutes, especially since an average garden isn't big enough to turn the machine around. Without 30-40 feet clear on both ends it isn't very feasible.

Keep on keeping' on, Betty.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 7:12AM
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There are still a lot of Ford 2n, 8n,9n tractors, and equivalents around here.

In my home town and this is in the middle of town, till the late seventis many who had large gardens had a gentleman with a team of horses plow their intown gardens.

My one grandfather adapted horse-drawn implements to use behind his small Ford.

If there are none around then, there are none around but around here some farmers keep the small ones around for a myriad of reasons known only to them.

I am in the middle of Minn.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 5:06PM
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RpR, We only have about 6-8"s of red, hard clay over rock.

A tiller is my only option if I want to turn it, but thanks for the idea. I love the way you write...'on the edge of town five blocks straight south' makes my feel like we're just sitting down talking!

pn, Thanks. If we want good, organic fruit and veggies I have to keep on keeping on.

Keep those great tips coming, y'all!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 8:36PM
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The older generations of farmers pretty well packed it in by the 60's here, as resortism made selling land more profitable than any kind of farming by several orders of magnitude. Some old-timers continued on with animals and haying the fields, but arable agriculture largely ended. The biggest local grower, even though he is a descendant of the original settlers, had to learn everything from scratch.

So most or all the old machines were sold or junked long ago. It's a similar story in most parts of eastern MA.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 11:03AM
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As the older farmers pass away here the families sell the farms which are then clear cut of all the beautiful trees, then cut up into lots and sold.

So sad.


    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 11:08PM
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Yes. Sounds like a regional oversight board is much needed. That is what has saved this county from the hideous fate of much of nearby Cape Cod, for example.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 8:14AM
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There is a guy in the Northwest who is doing wonderful oraganic farming. I think that this guy has the best solution to farming/gardening that I have ever seen.

I've redone my flowerbed already and will be tearing out a third of my back yard's lawn to build a mini-farm. I have 7 fig trees and other type trees, plus I want to add a large veggie garden.

His method is low cost, minimal work, and requires no tilling, no fertilizing, and little to no extra watering.

The only part which is a bit difficult is that his free video is over an hour long and interspersed with sermons. If that does not bother you, and especially if you have at least an hour to dedicate to watching this video, I believe that your problems are over.

Here is a link that might be useful: Stop trying so hard! Make gardening fun.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 9:40PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

dolzadell - coffee grounds are considered 'green' ie high nitrogen additions to your compost, not brown ie high carbon. But it sounds as if your compost works out fine anyway. (I'm not criticising, just pointing out. Personally I ignore the whole green/ brown thing and bung on anything that comes to hand. If it ever lived it can go on the compost heap.)

    Bookmark   April 24, 2012 at 5:11AM
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Bud, a one-size-fits-all-soil-types-and-climates solution isn't a reality.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2012 at 10:09PM
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pn, You are so right. It is a shame when everything has to be regulated and overseen by boards because the world has become all about making money. Integrity is so lacking today.

bud, I tried to watch the movie earlier, but I don't have highspeed internet and never got the movie to load all the way so I could watch it. it would freeze up.

What I saw was interesting. Sounds like something I would experiment with in a small plot.

Thanks, everyone for sharing all of your experiences and tips to help me get the most from my garden.

I will save this to my favorites as a great resource, especially when I get discouraged.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 1:02PM
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sudzy(5b IL)

""""I have to share my scary episode with using fish emulsion a couple of years ago. While planting some flower bulbs I decided to add some fish emulsion to the bottom of the planting hole to feed my bulbs and give the roots a good start.
The next day I was showing the area to my young grandson and something had dug the bulbs up and thrown them out of the hole! We thought it was a territorial squirrel until we noticed the bear footprints all around the area! The prints also solved the mystery of what dug up and stole the fish bones and parts that I had buried in the garden after reading about the indians burying the fish bones to feed the soil!

Needless to say I don't use fish emulsion now!

Thanks again for the encouragement and tips,
hi. I'm new to this thread and spotted this. Are you using fresh fish parts? left over after cleaning? that's what it sounds like. What the posters are referring to is a product that you buy, called Fish Emulsion. You dilute it and then apply as a spray or dunk. It's quit safe and not smelly. I'm very impressed with it. There are several brands.

Betty if you are using fish parts, please consider the danger.. Years and years ago, a friend of my father did the very same thing. Later, when she was gardening (barefoot!) she stepped on one of these undiscomposed bones
and she died.. jackjaw. (don't know how to spell the t...word. lol)
Not to mention animals. Boy, if I did that i would have a yard full of squirrels and skunks.

Now, on the bright side. I have Midwestern black soil. But it is of the wet 'puddy' variety, that morphs to brick when dry. I've been working this soil doing most of the suggestions that the board have mentioned. They all work. Only thing,it does take time.. I'm five years into it and just now I'm seeing real benefits!
You'll get there! best wishes Sue

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 5:10AM
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elisa Z5 if 10-10-10 kills Nematodes why do gardeners that use 10-10-10 have problems with RKN in sandy soil?
Please do not tell me that the 10-10-10 know only kills the good Nematodes.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 12:13PM
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