by Donne Gonzales
We are at the end of July and the weeds are still growing strong despite the lack of rain. It’s been really dry and we are waiting for the rain to come in. Fingers crossed we’ve got some coming in this week.
At this time of year, we are weeding almost every day. I like to use a lot of hand tools to escardar, and I also use my hands to get really close to the plants. Bindweed is especially hard to get out without using your hands.
Weeding is important so that the plant receives enough love, support, and care from you as the grower, sun, and water for growth. If weeds are too close or taller that takes over, and then weeds and plants fight over the elements. It’s equally important to aerate around your plants to give them a healthy growing system. We aerate to make sure that the soil has a good exchange of oxygen, water and proper soil drainage. I don’t aerate every time I weed, but it’s something that should happen 3-5 times during the growing season – depending on what the plant needs. Two of my favorite tools for aeration are the old school cavador, and finger cavador (skinny and easy to aerate without damaging roots).
Amendments are important to use when vegetables, fruit, or soil needs a little boost. There are a lot of different types of amendments. The following are some of my favorites: compost, manure, bone meal, blood meal, and worm castings.
Compost will help to improve soil health. It usually consists of plant matter, food waste, and recyclable organic material such as newspaper, cardboard boxes, leaves and small twigs. This has all been decomposed and broken down into something that looks, smells, and feels like soil. It is safe to apply to growing foods, but I like to put it down at the beginning of the growing season when I’m planting.
Manure is used to get nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to the soil for healthy plant growth. Healthy types of manure come from cow, horse, chicken, turkey, sheep, goat, and llama. If you can source from a neighbor or friend in the community it is best to make sure it is aged at least 4 months, but is still very full of nutrients even after a year of breaking down. One thing that is important to think about when sourcing it is where the manure is from. If from a friend or neighbor, ask them what the diet of the animal has been. If the animals have been around a lot of pesticides, maybe you want to avoid that manure! Once you’ve found manure that you are happy with, make sure you do not apply it when it’s fresh. Manure has such a dense amount of nutrients that it can hurt (burn) seedlings or plants. It can also be unsafe to apply to growing foods that will be eaten, because it could have harmful bacteria.
Bone meal is used when you need a source of calcium and phosphorus. It is used for mostly root crops and bulbs such as onions, garlic, carrots, and parsnip. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and a variety of flowers can also benefit as it creates a healthier root and flowering system.
Blood meal is high in nitrogen and can be used on leafy greens and flowers. It is usually spread on top or mixed into the soil before planting or when you notice sad plants. It can also be made into a water mixture and sprayed onto leaves and near roots. Beans and the legume family don’t benefit from this amendment, as it is a nitrogen fixer.
Be very careful when using blood meal and bone meal, because they can attract animals such as dogs, cats, and coyotes. They could easily pick up on the smell and come looking and/or tear up a garden patch because they want to find the source.
There are so many options for soil amendments, but worm castings are one of my favorites to add regularly to my garden. I personally think it’s not as scary as other additives. It feels a little more natural and not so strong, so I am less worried that it’ll burn or harm anything. I like to use worm castings in compost tea, or add them into the hole when I’m transplanting.
In addition to these options, there are different things you could add to soil depending on where you live, what you’re growing, and how it responds to growing vegetables and fruit. For example, in certain areas and for certain circumstances, I like to use Wood ashes, sand, wood chips and mulch. Even a thin layer of mulch or wood chips can dramatically help the soil stay cool and moist during these hot summer days.
Before using any of these amendments and additives, it is best to test your soil first. There are DIY methods, but ideally, you would do a lab test every few years. The soil lab test can give you an accurate understanding of the different nutrients in your soil, and help you know if your amendments are having an impact or not. Below is a link for a DIY soil test, so you can have a good idea of everything that’s going on.
Happy gardening! Que viva el huerto!
DIY Soil test Link: