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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Downtown Teaching Farm: Tip of the Day #1

Soggy Soil Blues

Problem:  Really wanting to get into the garden, the rain just stopped, and its a bit muddy out there.

That doesn't seem like a problem, but in reality:  Yes, its too wet, and you just have to wait it out.

Why:  Soil has a very complex physical matrix, known as soil structure, that is home to millions of microscopic air pockets.  These pockets not only provide necessary gases to the roots of plants, but they also provide a place for water absorbtion.  If you get into the soil when it is very wet, you will squash all of those microscopic pockets, effectively creating a mud that will dry as hard a cement, especially if your soil has a good amount of clay.  You will then have to battle this soil for several years, as many of your plants, invertebrates, and microorganisms will literally dehydrate and suffocate trying to grow there, and the water and gases have no chance of being absorbed.  Plus, it isn't that easy (back-wise) to garden in cement.  So, although it is tempting, it is important to wait it out.

By slighly mounding the garden beds, and distinguishing them from the paths, the soil will dry faster and stay loose and easy to work with throughout the season.  Plus, everyone knows where to walk, which invites helpers and visitors.

Solution:  If you've already raised up your garden beds (often just simply lifting them by adding mulch and then staying off of them by creating paths) that will save you a lot of drying time.  Not only does this give you a defined place to walk (great for kids and visitors to feel invited into the garden) but also, if the path's soil is a bit compacted, it means less weeding.  If you've not done this in previous years, I would recommend it as the first thing you do this year, once it is dry enough to work out there.  It is good to think about the width of the path in terms of being able to get a wheelbarrow through during mid-season growth.  You'll know you can get started on all of this when you start digging around and the dirt does not stick to your shoes.  Muddy shoes essentially mean "keep out of the soil, find something else to do out here."

Muddy shoes are essentially a "keep out" sign from your garden.

(First in a series of unknown length.)

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