By Penny Stine
Thursday, March 29, 2012
I haven't passed on too much information from the Master Gardening program because it's all left me feeling a bit overwhelmed. Attending the class merely opened my eyes to the wealth of information out there and all the things I don't know about gardening.
That said, I wanted to pass along this tip we learned in the last class on growing vegetables. Folks (researchers and gardeners) are starting to experiment with something called biochar. It's essentially pure charcoal, produced without oxygen and containing no added chemicals. It works as a soil amendment, increasing soil fertility and water retention.
There's a reason I make my living with words and not numbers or science (which, frankly, all seems like magic to me) so I don't understand all the science behind it, which is sad, because it's really not that technical. However, if you want to learn more about it, go to re-char.com.
In the meantime, our class instructor showed us photos of huge lettuce, Swiss Chard and lemons produced with the help of a little added biochar. It was enough to prompt me to go buy a bag of charcoal. Yes, a bag of charcoal from any hardware store will do, provided it's pure charcoal with no added chemicals (nix on the stuff that's easy to light because it's been dosed with something highly flammable). Our instructor had a photo of this particular brand, so that's what I bought.
It's supposed to be relatively easy to make your own biochar retort for creating your own biochar out of tree branches, grape vine cuttings and whatever other biomass you find in your own yard. I'm an idiot when it comes to anything that I have to build, so unless I can convince my husband that we need to find a 55-gallon drum so we can make our own furnace for converting dead tree branches into biochar, it ain't gonna happen in the Stine's backyard. The re-char website sells some of the necessary materials to convert a 55-gallon drum into a biomass burning, soil amendment making miracle.
Buying a bag of this particular charcoal was much easier. It was not, however, cheap. On large bag of charcoal was $15, counting tax. That's an expensive soil amendment. You don't have to add it every year, though, it stays in the ground for years and years.
I bought a bag with the intention of using it in certain beds. I'll keep you informed about the results. You're supposed to use it at about 20 percent in your soil... I'm just gonna smash it with a sledge hammer (but not into a pulverized, finely ground dust) and mix it in with the soil and compost before I plant in select areas. No, I will not be measuring the amount of soil, compost or charcoal so I will have no idea whether I'm adding 20 percent or two percent. Remember what I said about me and science?
BTW, do not add ash from your charcoal grill, woodburning stove or fireplace to your garden soil. Generally speaking, it has too high of a salt content. Our soils are pretty salty already and that could put them over the edge and make it impossible to grow some things.
By Penny Stine
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Someone from work sent me this photo yesterday in an e-mail. I totally relate to the sentiments.
Monday, March 26, 2012
One of my all time favorite flowers, daffodils, symbolize friendship, spring and new birth. I do love tulips, but they are sometimes a little late for the Easter scene. Of course, I love the crocus because it is the first, hardy even in the cold freezes, but nothing says it's spring like clusters of daffodils with their yellow bonnets. Every morning I look out the front door and they are facing east like they can't wait to welcome the rising sun.
"And then my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodiles."
In Elizabethan times they called them daffadowndillys.
She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And cursied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And wispered to her neighbor,
"Winter is dead."
by A.A. Milne.
By Penny Stine
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Last year, I thought I hated my compost bin, because it was too tall for me to work the compost with a shovel. My husband was gracious enough to build me a lower, open compost bin last spring, which works well in the summer when the weather's hot. I also broke down and bought a pitchfork, which is the real secret to compost success. I emptied this bin at the end of last summer & spread compost all over my garden. Then I promptly filled it with leaves, a little grass and other yard debris. I've been tossing kitchen scraps (especially coffee grounds) in it all winter and trying to go turn it once every week or two.
The result of my winter diligence? Compost! Lovely, lovely compost, which I worked into the soil before I planted peas.
OK, so I didn't get much. I'm working on quality, not quantity.
Adding compost to garden soil is ALWAYS a good idea here in the Grand Valley with our alkaline clay soil. Right now, the Mesa County Landfill is having a March sale. You can get a truckload of Mesa Magic (and pay tax, too) for $25. Such a deal!
Even if you put a yard of compost on your garden last year, put another yard on again this year. Your garden will thank you.
By Penny Stine
Monday, March 19, 2012
Men know that the secret to success is having the right tools, so anytime they do anything, it's an excuse to go buy a new tool. Preferably one that makes a lot of noise and is capable of destruction. Women (or at least this particular woman) will often make do using whatever tool is on hand, on sale or otherwise convenient. I have learned the error of my ways. Look what I bought this spring, thanks to my master gardening class:
These are some seriously awesome tools. The hand shovel is a nice, sturdy little tool. The middle tool (sorry, I don't know the right name. A hacker/chopper/slasher?) is awesome. It slices, it dices and it really cuts stubborn roots from your neighbors' trees that insist on spreading into your garden. The long-handled hand-shovel is great at digging up grass, which tends to have long, spreading, annoying roots that are trying to stake a claim in your flower beds.
Last year, I discovered a pitchfork was essential for making compost. More on that tomorrow.