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.

DPP_0004DPP_0005

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.

DPP_0017

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.

DPP_0003

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.

DPP_0009

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.

front veggie garden1_emailver

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.

DPP_0020

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.

leaves-k84n.jpg (1030604 Byte) red leaves

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.

PLOT_VIEW_B

Happy Day,
Jean

Landscape Design Tips, The Importance of Soil & Yummy Apple & Cinnamon Pancakes!

I am a Cottage Gardener through and through~ I love the free form it allows me to have… the natural flow that occurs with time… the feel that everything has been there forever.  Cottage gardens just seem happy and inviting to me~ they seem to say, ‘go ahead & pick a bouquet.. take it in the house, smell it…  gaze upon it’s beauty and wonder…’  Daisies, lupines, delphiniums and roses are just a few of the Cottage Gardens blooms that abound. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to explain how to do other garden types.  I believe your heart becomes a part of your garden over time, it calls out to you each time you pass by and invites you in like an old friend.  Landscaping can be fun and exciting, filled with anticipation of what each year will bring, what news plants will be added, new walkways, arbors… Enjoy your gardens and be one with it, it will bring you years of peaceful abundance.

There are several aspects to consider when considering your Landscape Design. These elements will effect the outcome quite drastically and need to be planned well in advance. 
*First make your Plan~  Walk through your yard and break it into three basic areas~1. Public Spaces- your front yard and driveway; these should be neat and organized; 2. Private Spaces- patios, pools areas and children’s play areas; these spaces allow for your personal creativity; 3. Utility Spaces- garbage cans, propane tanks, central air units, firewood piles and such- be practical when planning these areas. For instance, you don’t want to walk across your entire yard in the winter when you want to get some firewood 🙂
*Decide what your Personal Taste is~ this is probably going to be the easiest step in my opinion, unless of course you are not a gardener at heart and simply want a yard that is esthetically appealing to the eye and don’t really care about personal expression.  If this is the case, I would recommend going to a book store that has gobs of magazines; look at the covers of all the gardening magazine and see what catches your eye; decide what you like and then purchase several in that category of gardening;  what is your budget? what is your time limit to maintenance?
*Take into consideration the Style of your home when choosing your garden style.  You wouldn’t want to put a formal English garden with an old Victorian home.
*Blueprint your yard~  you don’t have to be an architect to do this.  You can actually purchase kits at garden centers to aid you, or do as I do, just take a pad of paper and rough draw your entire property or just the area in which you want to do the landscaping.  Take into consideration where all shade, all sun and partial shade/sun areas are located.  This will make a big difference in the plants that you finally choose.  Jot down where trees, fences, ditches, buildings, sidewalks, driveways, etc. are located. 
* Make a Plan of Action~ take time to develop your blueprint and plan.  Most well done gardens are a work in progress that require time and patience, not to mention funds! Decide on all the elements that you want to incorporate into the landscape and then decide what is the most practical thing to start with.  You will more than likely be incorporating hard scape elements into the design with the plants and maybe some garden art. These would include walkways, pergola’s, patios, pools, arbors and trellises. Also bird baths, sun dials, statues and any other ‘art’ you want.
*Choosing the plants will be another big decision.  You will need to decide on trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.  This will need to be decided upon once you choose your style.
*When deciding on the Layout, if you choose to incorporate paths, make them winding if at all possible; this adds interest and creates a feeling of anticipation as to what is coming up around the bend.  This obviously is not possible in all yards, so a way to create that feel is in your flower beds.  Instead of making a straight line edge for your beds, put curves in them to create interest.  It is amazing how this creates a natural flow that is appealing to the on lookers eye.
Different things to consider when planning:
~ do you want a veggie & herb garden?
~ do you want shrubs and trees that require little pruning
~ do you want flowering or evergreen shrubs & trees? or a mixture of both.
~ take into consideration all four seasons when choosing your plants.
~ be sure to look at growth patterns- maturity height & width, shade or sun, dry or wet, etc.

Designing and planning your garden is the fun part of gardening, but there is another very important element that is the Key to Success~ 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.
  
Yummy Apple & Cinnamon Pancakes!
Here is yet anther way to use Taylor’s awesome pancake mixes! Be sure to pick one up at the market!

1 Package of Taylor’s Bake Shoppe Regular Pancake Mix.  Follow package instructions for 1 recipe.
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 apple, cored, peeled, quartered, grated and divided
sugar for sprinkling
butter for melting to fry in

1. Make batter according to package instructions adding the cinnamon.
2. On a heated skillet melt 1 Tbsp. butter; sprinkle 1/2 tsp. sugar on top of melted butter; add 1 Tbsp. grated apple on top of this.
3. Immediately pour 1/4 cup of batter over top of apple, sugar & butter; cook until bubbles appear on the surface, about 1 to 2 minutes; turn and continue to fry for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until golden.
Serve warm with maple syrup , butter and whipped cream.

Happy Day,
Jean

Planting A Spring Garden, Checking your soil, Cold Frames, and yummy Cheddar & Onion Pie!

Planting A Spring Garden, Checking your soil, Cold Frames, and yummy Cheddar & Onion Pie!

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” AristotleIt’s still winter, can you believe it?  We were sitting on the front porch last evening watching the lightning and listening to the thunder claps & rain.  I had been working in my flower beds & cleaning up the yard running around all day bare foot! I can handle this kind of winter any day of the week.  I planted some Rhubarb Chard & Golden Chard today in the raised beds in the front garden.  They will be able to handle a frost and even a bit of snow~ although I will cover them if we get some of the white stuff. About 4 years ago we had a snow storm on Easter, after all we live in Michigan and anything can happen.  But today I was bare foot and that’s all that I care about. 

But on to the topic at hand~ planting.  What can you get away with planting right now you ask. Well there are a few things that will tolerate light frosts and even a light snow. So if you want to live life with some adventure here are a few things you can go ahead and try if you have a garden site that the soil is ‘fit’ to plant in. By fit I mean that it is not too wet. To check your soil, take a hand full of soil and squeeze it into a ball. If it doesn’t hold it’s shape then it is dry enough, if it stays in a wad then it is too wet, wait a bit longer.  
Here are some things you can plant right now:
*Spinach, Chard, Scallions, Peas, Radishes, Lettuces such as May Queen, Butter Crunch, Merriville de’Four Seasons, Green or Red Deer Tongue, Lolla Rosa to give you a few ideas.  
As I mentioned above, if we do happen to get some serious snow, than you might want to cover your seedlings.  Most of these things will tolerate and even taste better with a bit of snow & frost, the worst that will happen is the tips will get burned looking and a bit ugly. That is easy enough to snip off before you cook it though.  Also, please remember I live in the Thumb of Michigan, so these are tips for folks who live in similar climates.

If you are serious about wanting to have early spring garden stuff or even would like to experiment with the cold winter months, than look into building a Cold Frame.  The best book out there for this type of info is Eliot Coleman’s “Four-Season Harvest”. There are many styles to choose from starting with a simple straw bale structure to an elaborate glass pained wooden structure with hinges. The following information is adapted from Four Season Harvest.
*There are two parts to a cold frame- the sides & top.  “The sides can be made of almost any material- boards, concrete blocks, bales of hay, logs….” according to Coleman. He recommends boards, but they all work.
*The tops need to be for the light! You can use old storm windows, wooden frames with plastic sheeting adhered to it or anything that will cover the top and be translucent enough to let the light shine in.
*”Traditional home garden cold frames measure 4 to 6 feet front to back and are 8 to 12 feet long.  They are laid out with the long dimension running east to west. the frame should be just tall enough to clear the crops you plan to grow.  In the standard design, the back walls 12 inches height and the front wall 8 inches high, so that there is a slight slope to the south,” according to Coleman.
*The tops can be hinged or just set on. But either way I would personally recommend putting weights on each of the four corners to prevent them from flying off in high winds. 
These are just a few basic steps in building your own cold frame. Again to get greater detail & design drawings refer to Coleman’s book or Google it!Who says onions are just for salad & burgers?  Try this delicious savory onion & cheddar pie!
Cheddar & Onion Pie
2 Cups crackers crushed, Club crackers are very good
1/2 cup butter, melted
2  each red & yellow onions from Garden Gate, sliced thin
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp. Creole Seasoning mix
2 eggs from Garden Gate, beaten
1 cup Cheddar Cheese

A drawing of a kitchen garden, quite elaborate but wonderful.

1.  Combine cracker crumbs with butter; set aside one cup.  Press remaining crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9″ deep dish pie plate.
2. Saute onions in oil until transparent and tender, about 10 minutes.
3. Spread drained onions over crust.
4. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine milk and seasoning; without bringing to a boil, cook until heated through.  Turn off heat; stir in eggs and cheese.  Continue to stir until cheese melts.  Spoon over onions; top with reserved crumb mixture.
5. Bake at 325 degrees for about 40-45 minutes- until eggs are set. 

Happy Day,
Jean