MaryE's blog

2022 #130 Soil test results
Posted on Sep 19, 2022 6:11 PM

After testing several rows here are the conclusions: all of the rows where I added a liberal amount of compost have excessive nitrogen. Where I did not add compost the nitrogen is adequate. I have been chopping old straw and digging it into one row where I had planned to plant garlic but have decided it will grow those daikon radishes instead and the garlic will go where the soil is good even though that area is gopher alley. That is the latest version of my oft revised garden plan, for now.

Carbon material needs to be added to the rows to use some of the excess nitrogen. I have several bales of old straw, so old it has become gray and crumbly. I made a place to shred it with the lawn mower, using a very large flattened cardboard box and sort of fenced in on two sides with more cardboard, putting flakes (like slices) of the old straw on the bottom part and running over it with the lawn mower shredded it and blew it into the bag. That was a very dusty job! From there it was poured onto a 50 foot long row and dug in to mix it with the soil. And then I watered it, sprinkled daikon radish seeds on it, tamped it down with the back of a garden rake to put seeds into good contact with the soil, and watered it again. Today is in the mid 70's so I think I should see a lot of green sprouts in about 5 days. I hope our killing frosts hold off long enough for the plants to do what I hope they will do. Planting them two months ago would have been much better.

Needing a change of job today I started filling the raised bed. Two more bales of the old straw were torn apart into flakes and put on the hardware cloth bottom of the enclosure and then 3 feed sacks of old compost was added. Then it was watered. I'll repeat the layers with more straw and the rest of those sacks of compost. Moving the sacks was tricky since the bags are breaking down from the sun. The wheelbarrow was laid on it's side and a bag was carefully rolled into it, then the whole thing was tipped upright and wheeled over to the raised bed. Getting it out required some shovel work. The raised bed is less than half full. My plan is to plant asparagus in it next spring.

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2022 #129 Old tools, new jobs
Posted on Sep 16, 2022 7:54 AM

The old 8 tine manure fork has new jobs, two of them so far. I've been using it to turn the compost pile for a few weeks and tried using it as a broadfork. It doesn't penetrate the hard clay layer under the garden soil. I priced broadforks. Ouch! I plunge the old manure fork as deeply into the soil as possible and then lower the handle. That results in a sort of straining motion that exposes a lot of weed roots, particularly the field bindweed. If you've never dealt with bindweed you might have something similar with horizontal roots that are alive, white and easily broken. Every piece will grow a new plant so you can imagine what rototilling does to them! My garden has been rototilled for all the years we have lived here. No wonder I have a problem! In addition bindweed makes seeds and rototilling plants them along with the seeds from pigweed, buttonweed and a few others. So, with established rows (although not actual raised beds) I am going along the sides of the rows and cultivating the soil without turning it over, exposing and removing those roots while leaving the majority of the soil layers with their various types of microbes in place.

Yesterday I thought about a different manure fork, one we used to clean lambing pens at the neighbor's farm years ago. After the neighbor passed away and the sheep had been sold his son-in-law lived there and used the barn, and then when he moved he stored a lot of things here and said to use anything we needed. Guess what? Yesterday I investigated a bunch of tools in a far corner of the hay shed and found that other fork. It is wider and has more and longer tines. I gave it a try and it sure moves a lot more soil and exposes more roots! I see lifting the garlic bulbs as another possible use for it!

We took a long overdue jaunt down to the Boise area which included a visit to a nursery which is part of a large seed business. I have bought quite a few seeds there in years past and had been thinking about trying some daikon radishes to help break up my heavy clay layer. I inquired and sure enough they do sell those in bulk.

Let me back up for a minute. The nursery store does have seed racks as most garden stores do, but mostly sell seeds from a wall of little drawers for a better price. Yesterday I talked to the salesperson and asked about daikon radishes to use for breaking up my heavy clay pan and learned that I could get a whole pound of seed for just a little more than the smaller pre-packaged in little brown bag amounts from their drawers. $2 and change for a whole pound! Most seed packets are measured in grams or number of seeds. A whole pound of radish seeds is thousands! What a deal! They call these forage radishes because farmers plant them as forage crops for sheep and cattle. The deep roots pull up nutrients from below where most roots go and after grazing the field (if they do) the crop is plowed under to put the nutrients back into the top few inches of soil. In contrast to that very good price, one of my seed catalogs has packets of daikon radish seeds for $2.75 per packet of 200 seeds. Smiling It doesn't take a lot to put a smile on a gardener's face!

We also priced that larger fork at the same store and found another savings of about $90. Another Smiling I hope the former neighbor doesn't want the old one back. He's not farming or even gardening anymore.

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2022 #128 Too much of a good thing
Posted on Sep 11, 2022 6:24 PM

The soil test kit from the farm store is telling the tale. So far I have tested soil from 2 of last years garlic rows, with results the same for both. Nitrogen: surplus, phosphorus: deficient, potash: adequate and the soil is alkaline which we already knew. My conclusion so far is that I added too much compost and burned the plants. I will keep testing in more of my garden rows but don't really expect much change in the results.

So, what to do? Now that I am reasonably sure I don't have a herbicide residue problem I will use the planting rows again, mixing some straw and bone meal with the soil when I plant the garlic. As the straw decays it will tie up some nitrogen. Bone meal is a good source of phosphorus. Last spring I bought a bag of it and did use some but the garlic (what there was of it) was already up so the garlic rows didn't get any. I might grow some garlic in one of the pathways just to see the difference. Using the old rows might be risky but I figure it can't be worse than last season.

So far I have sold about 20 pounds of garlic and have a few more pounds I can clean up for sale, probably to the co-op because they will take smaller bulbs than what my primary buyer wants. Garlic sales this year will just pay for garden supplies. I'm thankful for that. Everyone should have a hobby that pays it's own way.

We've been close to frost but it hasn't happened yet. If not for our smoky haze keeping heat from escaping and cold air from descending we might have had frost a couple of nights ago as they did at the official weather reporting station near the airport. I moved my large Christmas cactus into the greenhouse temporarily because I am not ready to bring it inside. It's so big we have to be careful taking it through doorways and it dominates the living room for about 8 months every year. It is also dominating the greenhouse but I am not starting winter salad greens in there yet so it is not in my way.

Smoke continues to build from the fires. Our normally clean air is in the unhealthy range. As of yesterday about 200,000 acres are or have burned east of us from 3 mostly out of control fires and another fire west of us is at 15 or 20,000 acres. Yesterday was windy and fanned the flames, today has been mostly calm and helped the fire crews. What we need is a long, steady, gentle rain. It isn't likely to happen. These fires will not spread in our direction but the smoke is carried by the wind, swirled around, carried in another direction and I doubt if there is any clean air left in the western US.

Today I collected row markers, tomato cages, etc. and added the rest of the cornstalks to the compost pile. The pile has cooled and is no longer actively breaking down. It needs to be turned again but I see no need to be in a hurry for additional compost because I still have plenty of what I bought last fall and even some from the spring before that.

Hordes of grasshoppers continue to eat everything green. My apple trees have very few leaves, some have none at all. The grasshoppers eat what they prefer first and then go on to less desirable flavors. Our market gardener neighbor who lives a couple of miles down our road had 600 lettuce plants wiped out in just one day. Plants she needed for CSA boxes and the vegie stand in town. She gardens organically and doesn't want to resort to spraying. Her flock of 300 chickens doesn't even make a dent in the grasshopper population. We need a winter with a couple of weeks of -10 to kill the eggs before they hatch.

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2022 #127 Cleaning the garlic (finally)
Posted on Sep 8, 2022 6:35 PM

I put it off. I knew it would be disappointing. And it is.

I have about 14 pounds of decent sized garlic boxed and ready to sell, and have my seed stock saved and labeled. Tonight I will contact my primary buyer to let her know what I have. Tomorrow I need to contact somebody at the co-op to see if I can sell the smaller bulbs there. They have done a lot of reorganizing and bringing in new people so I really don't know anybody there anymore. That feels strange because I was very involved there for about 10 years. In addition to those two places to sell garlic, I have a couple of private customers that need to be contacted.

Our weather has finally become a few degrees cooler. Today reached about 80 and was actually quite comfortable. I set up a place to sort and clean garlic in the woodshed out of the wind on the sheltered side of the shop. Yesterday I tried working in the usual spot on the other end where there is a nice table, but after about half an hour the wind came up and I was getting debris in my nose and eyes. Today I accomplished more and at least have a box ready to sell and more of it sorted.

Earlier this week I went to the county extension office to inquire about getting a soil test. I came home with a list of testing labs and not much else. Maybe a simple soil test from the farm store would tell me if I have a terrible imbalance, or if not then I might have a herbicide problem as I had originally suspected before it dawned on me that I might have added too much compost. Having never done the soil test thing I only know that those basic easily obtained kits will test for N, P and K. Maybe more? I don't know.

Rumor has it that we might actually get some moisture next week!

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2022 #126 Rabbit brush and smoke
Posted on Sep 2, 2022 12:50 PM

The rabbit brush in the sage-brushy rangeland and along our roads is starting to bloom. Rabbit brush blooming is a sure sign of the changing of seasons even if our temperatures are still setting records. Bloom time might be triggered by the days becoming shorter. It's nice to see some dots of gold amongst the pale bluish green of the sagebrush and the gold-brown grass. I should try to identify it and learn if it is related to the sagebrush which I suspect because it stays green no matter how dry the ground is. Sagebrush roots go down 20 feet or more so I think this probably does as well.

A few days ago our official weather station's heat record for the date was broken by 6 degrees. Of 9 reporting stations in our general area of eastern Oregon and western Idaho 7 broke heat records for August 31. We had a wee bit of relief for a day and now are at the start of another heat wave.

Now it is fire season. There are several north and east of us, one big one in southwest Oregon was big enough to be covered on national news! and the smoky smell in the air will be with us for a while no matter which way the wind brings it or takes it. There seems to be an endless supply. Yesterday our interstate was closed due to fires so a lot of people were stranded. This area doesn't have alternate routes for big trucks or a lot of traffic because of so many mountains. Our views of the mountains have been very limited to non existent in the past few days.

This morning while the air was relatively cool I turned the compost pile again and added about half of our stunted, half dry cornstalks, plus the usual melon rinds, corn cobs and etc from the kitchen waste bucket. Compost pile turning is about a once a week event to keep the pile actively working. Water is added as I go and I give it a shower every couple of days.

The fuel company sent their truck to pump out our tank and replace the gas with what was originally in it. Go back to blog 125 if you missed the goofy mix up story.

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