Next spring’s good garden will start now because, as the old saying goes, a garden is only good with soil.
Whether the garden is for food or for decoration, September and October are ideal months for soil fertility in Sonoma County.
During the growing season, your garden soil is depleted of plant nutrients. The most obvious reason is that the plants you grow on take up nutrients from the soil to build their tissues, especially the three major nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
But during those hot months, soil life – microbes, fungi, worms, spiders and many other creatures – also took nutrients to build their people. Unlike plants that take in nutrients directly from the soil, animal life in the soil reacts to organic matter. Drop some dead plant material on empty soil and immediately be attacked by microbes and other soil organisms and return it to the nutrients used to build plant tissue.
When these living creatures break up dead plant tissues, their numbers increase to stellar. They live fast and die fast enough to eat plant tissue. Their actions make them very angry. That is why the compost heats up.
When single-celled microbes die, they are called water in wet soils, and the cell walls of their cells disperse and pour their acidic acid into the soil solution. This cell acid plays an important role in soil fertility. In addition to 3 – 5% rich, dark, degraded organic matter, most soils contain clay particles, silt, sand, and rocks. The acid from the microbial cells dissolves some of the microorganisms in clay, silt, sand and rocks, which are then available to plants. That is why farmers know that clay soil is fertile soil.
Thus, during the hot summer days, life in the soil literally consumes and depletes the nutrients in the soil. Then your October job is to add organic matter to the soil. There are many ways this can be done, but for simplicity, let’s look at the two most common.
The first way is to cover the soil with dead vegetation. In other words, paint the garden with a good 6-inch clean plant. “Pure” means no weeds, weeds, or fungi. This straw will destroy any weeds that can grow in four months between mid-October and mid-February.
Warning: Soil microbes need a good supply of nitrogen to do their job of decomposing dead plants. Farm manure – never a dog or cat – generally contains a lot of nitrogen. Cows and horses have a problem with manure because the animals eat a lot of seeds in the grass or sesame seeds, so that your garden can be planted with unwanted plants. Rabbit, pig, goat and poultry are the best. So, if you are simply mowing your beds with a lot of plant nutrients, put a four-part ratio of plant nutrients to one part of fresh manure in some farm manure. If you have new manure and added it in October, you should not plant it until next spring. In the meantime, it’s completely rotten and will definitely make your spring garden healthier and more fertile.
Or you can buy mixed manure or commercial fertilizers, and safely plant them in the winter. Compost is a pre-existing plant and animal issue with microbes and is an excellent product for rejuvenating soil that has dried up in the summer.
In addition to deep cultivation, another way to rejuvenate your garden is to apply fertilizer or manure on top of it and then dig it into a fork or spreader to bury it in the top of the soil. But notice how nature rejuvenates the soil – year after year it drops leaves and other debris on the surface, creating soil for a certain horizon. And nature knows better.
“There is no gardening method,” says Ruth Stutt, a gardener in Connecticut. She melted the soil every fall. In the spring, she pulls a handful of rotten leaves aside, puts them in the greenhouse, and pulls the straw back.
But Connecticut is not California. Stutt had a 150-day growth period, so its soil microbes only functioned from May to September. We have a period of 300 days and more growth: double the time for soil microbes to break down organic matter. That means we have to add organic matter twice – once in October and then again in May or late June when the weather warms up.
When microorganisms separate and fully digest the plant material, the rest is called humus. Hummus is an amazing sponge material with a wide range of channels and pits. A handful, flattened, could cover half a football field. The humus floor is filled to the brim. Remember the nutrients released when microbes die – potassium and sodium and trace elements such as copper, magnesium, zinc and so on? They are food plants and are positively charged when floating in wet soil. So they stick to humus and stick to it (opposite charges apply). Rain – or irrigation in our case – does not displace them. You are prohibited from bathing.
Nature provides them with the nutrients they need for their health, and so in healthy soils these nutrients are high in nutrients. As they deplete, humus is released into the soil in large quantities with electricity to maintain good and healthy levels.
This is one of the many natural, built-in systems that work in healthy soil. Organic gardeners put it this way: they feed the soil and the soil feeds on plants. Now is the time to feed the soil.
Jeff Cox is a Kenwood-based food and vegetable writer. Reach him at email@example.com.