Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
December, 2000
Regional Report

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Left to weather in my garden, piles of horse manure improve the soil while it rests.

Building Better Soil

If you want to grow a better garden, begin by growing better soil. I remind myself of this fact often, especially when visions of next year's garden start filling my head. So, as the new year dawns, I get busy giving my soil whatever it needs.

Manure for Soggy Soil

In winter, while the soil is cold and wet, the last thing it needs is to be dug or cultivated. Working wet soil always turns it into a gloppy mess, but that doesn't mean that you have to wait until spring to start an improvement program. I find that dumping piles of manure onto the surface is an almost effortless way to create better fertility. Earthworms and other dirt dwellers quickly find the warm pile and make themselves at home beneath it. As they tunnel up and down, they enrich the soil, following nature's design. By the time spring comes, the manure is nicely aged and the bed is ready to turn, rake, and plant.

Rocks and Minerals

A cold winter day is the perfect time to check my soil's pH, which tends to be acidic if I don't dust it with lime every few years. I figure a bag of lime is a good investment in my soil's future - not only raising the pH but adding calcium to the soil as well. I just have to remember to wear a dust mask when handling the lime.

Another good source of soil calcium is the mineral gypsum. I always apply gypsum to the place where I plan to grow tomatoes as my first defense against blossom end rot (which is caused by a calcium deficiency in the fruit brought on by fluctuating soil moisture). Gypsum is also the definitive cure for a soil that has accumulated salt from heavy summer watering.

Mulch Them In

Both lime and gypsum applied to the soil's surface in winter and held in place with a thin mulch of straw work their magic by spring. For good measure, I mix a little of both into my compost heap too, so when finished, it can be directly applied to the garden.

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