Enrich Your Garden Soil Now: Four easy ways to revive your garden soil for spring

I stood and gazed at my beloved gardens today… My winter crops are growing beautifully and with the rain we were blessed with all through the night along with the warmer days and cool nights we’ve recently had, they look happy.

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My  gardens were so generous and fed my family lavishly this year. My heart gets a warm, fuzzy feeling just thinking about it… Then there’s all the goodness I’ve stored in jars and freezers from her as well.  Now it’s time to do for it, like its done for me… it’s time to feed the garden!

winter share

Fall’s when we need to prep our garden soil for next years crops. Just when you thought you’d be able to till it all under and forget about it until next spring, here I come with this news. Your gardens productivity depends much on how you care for it… the soil I mean. Feeding your soil nutrients in the way of manure, compost and cover crops will mean bountiful yields year after year.

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I recommend using at least one or a combination of all four methods to improve your soil as opposed to commercial fertilizers. They’ll offer short-term help, but the key to healthy, living soil is feeding it a healthy, regular diet.

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Here are four easy ways to revive your garden soil for springs planting.

1. Compost added to your garden in the fall will provide your soil with many types of sustainable organic materials and nutrients. If you have a compost pile you’ve been working at all summer, now’s the time to add it in.

After we’ve removed all the plant debris from our raised beds, we put some manure on and then top with straw. When spring arrives it’s nicely broke down and we top with a bit of compost. Then we’re ready to plant.

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If you think making compost seems intimidating, here’s a great article on how-to.
http://www.ehow.com/how_3541_begin-compost-pile.html

2. Cover crops are often referred to as ‘Green Manures’. In the Mid-West we can plant cover crops in September through October. The key is that it gets at least a couple of inches in height before our blustery winters come full force. In the spring once the crop is between three to six inches up, we’ll till it in.

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The benefits of cover crops include helping eliminate soil erosion and prevent weed development while adding essential nitrogen into the soil.

We don’t plant cover crops in our raised bed gardens because it would have to be worked in by hand. We feel that the manure, straw and compost add enough.

Dense stand of rye in April close-up.

Here’s a great article that gives info on cover crops for home gardens on a state to state basis. http://statebystategardening.com/state.php/wi/newsletter-stories/growing_better_soil_with_a_cover_crop/

3. Adding manure to your gardens in the fall will allow it enough time to compost over the winter and be tilled in come spring adding rich, organic nutrients to your soil. Manure makes things grow as the old timers use to say. If you contact a farmer, they may be willing to let you have some, especially if you’re willing to ‘help yourself’. Using cow, chicken, sheep or hog manure makes no difference… they’re all rich in nutrients.

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Here’s an informative article on how to use raw manure in your gardens.
http://www.ehow.com/how_7616352_use-fresh-manure-vegetable-garden.html

4. Leaves are free! That makes them priceless… at least to the serious gardener. We have a few large maples that we use the leaves from. We add them into the garden and even mulch heavily around and over some of the perennial crops such as rhubarb and asparagus. They’re both heavy feeders and adding leaves provides them with the extra they require to produce abundantly.

I often see lines of leaf bags along the side of the road just waiting to be picked up. Don’t be shy… it’s worth it especially if you don’t have any trees of your own.

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To learn more about using leaves to enrich your garden read this great article.
http://organicgardening.about.com/od/organicgardenmaintenance/a/autumnleaves.htm

Designing and planning your garden is the fun part, but the key to success is your soil.  The following information was found and adapted from “Michigan Gardener” magazine, April 2012 issue on page 9.

“Soil is comprised of three materials: sand, clay, and loam.  The best soil has equal parts of all three.  Problems arise when there is too much of one material. Sandy soil is too loose and drains too quickly… Clay soil is too hard when dry, repelling water and making it difficult for roots to grow. When wet, it holds too much water, leading to root rot….  Spending a little time becoming familiar with the soil type in your backyard will greatly improve your gardening success.  If you need help, bring a sample into your local garden center and an expert will help you determine your soil type….  You’re not necessarily stuck with the soil you’re given.  Adding amendments will help create a rich, loamy composition that’s a great environment for plants to thrive.  For sandy soil, add organic matter, such a peat moss or compost, to give it more texture add water holding properties.  To break up clay soil, add gypsum, pine bark fines or ceramic pellets.  It is also important to know your soil’s pH as well as nutrient composition before applying fertilizers…. Tests are available for about $20….” There is much information to be had on this topic that I wouldn’t have time to get into here.  I would advise you to get a soil sample done and get your soil prepped for maximum benefits.

Your soil is the number one component to growing healthy, abundant fruits and vegetables… Just like anything else in life, feed what you want to grow and starve what you want to die.

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Happy Day,
Jean

A "Green" Barbeque, Vermicomposting and some Yummy Grilling Recipe’s!

 
It’s just about January now and I am already thinking about what I am going to get to start in the green house here in just a few weeks… oh it sends a chill of excitement up my spine! It really isn’t too early for all the home gardeners to start thinking about a few things as well, that’s why you are getting all those beautiful seed catalogs in the mail (see graphic). I thought today would be a great day to discuss Vermicomposting- you’ll want to order your worms here in a jiffy- yes I said ‘worms’!  A.K.A free fertilizer- not the worms- ugg! You should be thinking about seed orders now… lots of companies offer discounts for orders placed before the first of the year… check it out… every penny counts… plus those extra pennies might add up to a few extra packs of seeds!  Before you know it, you’ll be seeing all the big box stores starting to put up the shelves of seed packs, seed starting kits and all that other good stuff! Now is also the time that you might be thinking of drawing up your garden plan… I love doing that! You will also see gobs of fertilizers in both the catalogs and store shelves.  That’s where Vermicomposting is coming into play in today’s post.  You will definitly want to start now, so you will have this rich, wonderful fertilizer ready for your seedlings and garden plants… read on!

Be sure to go to my blog at http://www.fordragonfliesandme.blogspot.com to see all the great photos that go with this post! Enjoy friends!

 

What’s “Vermicomposting” you ask… well in layman’s terms, it is simply ‘worm poop’ or more politely speaking ‘castings’… good stuff either way, I’ll testify to that! Many home gardeners spend tons of money on fertilizer, when you can be making it yourself using everyday house hold waste, especially if traditional ‘composting’ isn’t for you.  This sounds grosser than composting, and in reality is still composting, but it is by far much less laborious, doesn’t stink (really- forget that it’s poop) and doesn’t take near the amount of space. Many people don’t know what to do with their common household organic waste material- feed it to the worms- for real, they’ll eat it!  This is an excellent way to be environmentally responsible while recycling your own organic waste to a colony of worms in a worm composter.  These wonderful little gobblers devour the waste (each worm eats up to half its body weight every day) in a dark bin and produces two natural byproducts; a top quality compost that home gardeners sometimes refer to as “Black Gold,” which you  use to condition the soil in your garden and in containers that you will plant in. Or a liquid often refered to as “Black Tea,” that you can dilute to make a superb tonic for your plants!
It is very simple to make your very own Worm Composter, using stackable plastic storage totes, wire mesh, a drain cock, and synthetic carpet for a lid, but the simplest way to get started is to purchase a ready made kit, complete with a supply of the same kind of worms that normally live in well rotted manure or compost heaps.  But for you do-it-yourselfers, here is a detailed how to!

The first thing to consider before you start your project is do you want it indoors or outdoors?
Worm composter’s are often described as ‘odor free,’ but many people find that when they lift the lid off to add more scraps, a strong earthy smell wafts out.  So, it may be a better idea to keep your worm composter in a utility room, basement, garage or outside the back door. 

 
How to Make your own:  This info was taken in part from:   http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Your-Own-Worm-Compost-System

Material: Rubber is cheap, easy to use and durable. Galvanized tubs are somewhat costly but will last forever and plastic cracks easily, but either will do in a pinch. Five gallon plastic buckets now for sale by most hardware stores can be used – especially if you live in an apartment. Clean the 5-gallon buckets thoroughly with soap and let them sit for a day or so filled with clean water before using as a worm bin.

Ventilation: Your bin should be well-ventilated, with several 1/8 inch (3mm) holes 4 inches (100mm) from the bottom (otherwise the worms will stay at the bottom of the bin and you may drown your worms). For example, you can build a worm bin out of a large plastic tub with several dozen small holes drilled out on the bottom and sides.

Size: The larger you make the container, the more worms it can sustain. Estimate 1 pound (0.45kg) of worms for every square foot of surface area. The maximum productive depth for your bin is 24 inches (61cm) deep because composting worms will not go further down than that.

Cover: The bin should have a cover to prevent light from getting in and to prevent the compost from drying out. Choose or make a lid that can be removed if your compost is too wet. Use a canvas tarp, doubled over and bungee-corded on, or kept in place with wood. Burlap sacks also work well, and can be watered directly.

Siphon: Purchase a drain cock from any hardward store and follow instructions for instalation. This is how you will siphon off the Black Tea concentrate.

Prepare the bedding for your worms.
The bedding is the natural habitat of the worm that you’re trying to replicate in your compost bin. Fill your bin with thin strips of unbleached corrugated cardboard or shredded newspaper, straw, dry grass, or some similar material. This provides a source of fiber to the worms and keeps the bin well-ventilated. Sprinkle a handful of dirt on top, and thoroughly moisten. Allow the water to soak in for at least a day before adding worms. Over time, the bedding will be turned into nutrient-rich compost material by the worms. When you harvest the composted soil, you’ll have to introduce new bedding into the worm bin again.

Canadian peat moss, sawdust, (rinsed) horse manure, and coconut pith fiber are also great for composting.

Avoid putting pine, redwood, bay or eucalyptus leaves into your bedding. Most brown leaves are acceptable in vermicompost, but eucalyptus leaves in particular act as an insecticide and will kill off your worms.

  Choose which worms you want.
There are several varieties of worms that that are bred and sold commercially for vermicomposting; just digging up earthworms from your backyard is not recommended. The Internet or local gardening club is your best bet for finding a worm vendor near you. A pound of worms is all that is recommended.

  • The worms most often used, Eisenia foetida (Red Wigglers), are about 4 inches long, mainly red along the body with a yellow tail. These worms have a healthy appetite and reproduce quickly. They are capable of eating more than half their own weight in food every day.
  • Another variety to consider are Eisenia hortensis, known as “European night crawlers.” They do not reproduce quite as fast as the red wigglers, but grow to be larger, eat coarser paper and cardboard better, and seem to be heartier. They are also better fishing worms when they do reach full size.
  • However, as with any non-native species, it is important not to allow European night crawlers to reach the wild. Their voracious appetites and reproductive rates (especially among the red wigglers) have been known to upset the delicate balance of the hardwood forests by consuming the leaf litter too quickly. This event leaves too little leaf litter to slowly incubate the hard shelled nuts and leads to excessive erosion as well as negatively affecting the pH of the soil. So, do your best to keep them confined!
Maintaining and Harvesting Your Compost
1. Feed your worms digestible amounts regularly. The bedding of your compost bin is a great start, but the worms need a steady diet of food scraps in order to stay healthy and produce compost. Feed your worms at least once a week in the beginning, but only a small small amount. As the worms reproduce and grow in numbers, try to feed them at least a quart of food scraps per square foot of surface area each week.
2. Worms eat fruit and vegetable scraps; bread and other grains; tea leaves and bags; coffee grounds; and egg shells. Worms eat basically what humans eat, except they are much less picky!
3. If you can process your scraps before you introduce them into the compost bin, you’ll find that your worms will eat them quicker. Worms go through smaller-sized food more quickly than they can larger-sized or whole food. In this respect, they are also like humans.
4. Mix the scraps into the bedding when you feed the worms. This will cut down on fruit flies and will give the worms more opportunities to eat. Don’t just leave the scraps on top of the compost heap.
 
Maintain your bin. Keeping your bin elevated off the ground, using bricks, cinder blocks, or whatever is convenient will help speed composting and keep your worms happy. Worms are capable of escaping almost anything, but if you keep your worms fed and properly damp, they should not try to escape. A light in the same area will ensure your worms stay put. Sprinkle the surface with water every other day. You want your bedding to have the dampness of a wrung-out sponge.

Add more cardboard, shredded newspaper, hay, or other fibrous material once a month, or as needed. Your worms will reduce everything in your bin quickly. You will start with a full bin of compost or paper/cardboard, and soon it will be half full. This is the time to add fibrous material.

 

Pay attention to some composting “don’ts”.
Composting bins are not difficult to maintain, but they do need to be looked after. Here are some things that you shouldn’t do if you want a healthy, hearty ecosystem. Don’t feed your worms too much. If your compost bin starts to smell, it could be because you are feeding your worms more than they can process. When this happens, the bedding can also heat up, killing off the worms.
*Don’t feed your worms any combination of the following. These foods are difficult for the worms to digest:
*Excessive citrus — no more than 1/5 of the total worm food
*Meats or fish
*Fats or excessively oily scraps
*Dairy products (eggshells are fine)
*Cat or dog feces
*Twigs and branches
Harvest the compost once it’s ready.*After 3-6 months, you should have a fair amount of worm compost stored up in your bin. Now it’s time to harvest. Keep in mind that you might not be able to save every worm when harvesting the compost. That’s okay; by and large, your worms have multiplied, and there should be plenty to continue composting.
*Put on rubber gloves, and move any large un-composted vegetable matter to one side. Then, with your gloved hands, gently scoop a section of worms and compost mixture onto a brightly lit piece of newspaper or plastic wrap. Scrape off the compost in layers. Wait a while giving the worms time to burrow into the center of the mound. Eventually you will end up with a pile of compost next to a pile of worms. After harvesting, you should replace the bedding and then return the worms to the bin, do whatever you want with the compost, and repeat.
*If you prefer a hands-off technique, simply push the contents of the bin all to one side and add fresh food, water, dirt, and bedding to the empty space. The worms will slowly migrate over on their own. This requires much more patience, of course. It could take up to a few months for the worms to fully migrate to the scraps-side of the compost bin.


 


Siphoning off the Black Tea- Liquid Gold!
~Use rubber gloves and store the concentreated plant food in a jar with a tight lid until you need it use it.  LABLE THE JAR, so no one accidently thinks this looks like something tasty to drink.
~Dilute it 1:10 with water and watch your plants perk up within days.

Get more great info at:
http://www.ehow.com/how_4778691_build-worm-composter.html
http://home.howstuffworks.com/vermicomposting.htm
Well now that you are super excited to get started go to it! Enjoy your homemade, free fertilizer!

 

…and now on to something a bit more ‘digestable’
The other day I asked Evan what he was hungry for… my little five year old sweetie looks up at me and says, “Steaks on the gill mom!”  “Ahhh,” I said, “Now you’re talkin’ my language!”  Grilling is another thing we just refuse to think of as seasonal at our farm stead… you gotta eat year round right? So why shut this door of goodies off to the family just because of that white stuff!  We love to grill here at our home no matter what time of year it is. Neil and the boys are all quite handy with the tuner & tongs… forget that it’s winter and have some fun!  Here is a fun activity to do over the next few days when the children are home from school- and be sure to give her a try!

Here is the how-to for making your own Green Barbeque!
You may be asking why bother when I can just go buy a regular one… well, I guess you can, but I personally think this is super cool and asthetically much more appealing than a metal one… to each there own though.  If you don’t want it, make one for a gift to a ‘green minded’ friend or relative… either way, have fun!
~First you’ll need a clay pot about 13 inches (33cm) in diameter to feed about 2-3 people, a larger one for more people
~Stand the pot on a couple bricks to allow air to circulate underneath the fire. Fill the pot half full with pebbles or broken clay pots, slightly more if it is tall.
~Line the top part with 4 layers of heavy tinfoil and heap the charcoal in the center. Light the coals.
~When the coals are glowing red and have started to turn gray at the edges, spread them out evenly being careful not to rip the foil; balance an oven shelf or grill pan shelf over the rim of the pot.
~Cook skewers of peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms,, or pieces of fish or meat, and throw a handful of rosemary, thyme, or lavender on the fire for a hint of herby flavor as the skewers are cooking. 
~Let coals cool, remove rack, carefully lift off the foil, put ashes in your garden by blueberry bushes or around peonies. Recycle the tin foil!
You’ll have to go to my blog spot at http://www.fordragonfliesandme.blogspot.com to see step by step photo of this… Enjoy friends!
 
Yummy Grilled Pizza!    Oh this is soooooo good!
Last summer we fell in love with grilling pizza! The children enjoyed it both in the way of having fun because they created their own masterpieces and it was absolutely delicious.  Here is my pizza crust recipe and some of our favorite toppings! 

Crust:
2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp. yeast
1 tsp. raw organic sugar
1 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 cups flour, plus some for dusting

Toppings:
shredded cheese
fresh Portobello mushrooms
sweet peppers
onions
bacon, ham, sausage, ground beef or chicken
pizza sauce, ranch dressing
tomatoes
… these are just some ideas, use your favorite toppings

1. In a large, mixing bowl add yeast to water and stir gently; add sugar, salt and olive oil, stir in gently until dissolved.
2. Add 2 cups of flour, mix in until well blended; add 1 more cup flour, mix in well; and the rest of flour in 1/4 cups at a time until the dough is soft and doesn’t stick to hands.  Add a bit more flour in until the dough feels right;  Knead dough for about 2-3 minutes until all flour is mixed in well.  Form into a ball and place in bowl, cover with kitchen towel and leave on the top of stove to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
3. While dough is rising get your toppings prepared.  Sauteing the veggies is best and making sure any raw meats are cooked.
4.When dough has risen, punch it down using your hands and knead a bit more into a ball again.  On a floured surface, cut the dough into 4 even sized pieces and roll out to about and 1/2 inch thick. The dough should be thicker so it doesn’t fall apart on the grill.
5. Brush the dough with Olive Oil and put on heated grill; grill on one side for about 2-3 minutes, checking to be sure it doesn’t burn; when the one side is done, remove from grill onto a cookie sheet, cooked side up; put your toppings on the cooked side; sauce, cheese, meat & veggies and add a bit more cheese; return to the grill to finish grilling- about 2-3 more minutes; put lid on for about the last minute to help melt the cheese.
Remove from grill and have your feast!

Beautiful French Taragon

 included these awhile back but I thought it would be appropriate to include with this post! Enjoy friends!
Here are some BBQ Brush On Butter Recipes along with a few more canning ones from my cookbook! Enjoy friends!

To 1 stick of salted softened butter add one of the following and mix thouroughly.  Let set in fridge for at least 3 hours so flavors blend through! NOTE: The herbs are all dried. 

Cajun Style Poultry Brush On!
1/2 tsp. oregano, crushed
1/8 tsp. thyme, crushed
1/4 tsp. cumin, ground
dash of red pepper
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Lemon Basil Fish or Veggie Brush On!

1/2 tsp. lemon peel, finely shredded
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. lime juice
1/4 tsp. basil, crushed
1/4 tsp. sea salt

Parmesan Butter Brush On!
~ great to brush on veggies or even use in pasta or spread onto bread to make garlic toast!
1 Tbsp. fresh parmesan cheese, grated
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. parsley, crushed
1/4 tsp. sea salt

Garlic Butter Brush On
~ great to brush on veggies or to make garlic toast
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp. sea salt

Chive~Tarragon Brush On
~ great on red meat and veggies!
2 Tbsp. chives, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. dried tarragon, crushed
2 Tbsp. parsley, snipped


Thyme Grilled Vegetablego back to my 12/18 blog post for this one

Happy Day,
Jean