Posts Tagged ‘nutrients’

I wrote this in November and forgot to post it. But instead of re-writing it, I’ve decided to put it on the blog anyway. We haven’t been keeping up with the in-bed composting as often as we planned, mostly because we haven’t been collecting kitchen scraps and our stash of leaves is soaked from the snow. 


A couple weeks ago we did some major fall clean up in the garden. It’s always sad to rip everything out, but what wasn’t diseased was cut up and tossed into the compost bin.

We were able to save some of the herbs and preserve them for the winter (more on that later). As I mentioned in other posts, we have lots of beautiful trees on our street. In past years, we’ve shredded them and added the leaves to our garden beds to decompose over the winter. But I recently learned many of the pests that plague our garden – most notably the cucumber beetle – overwinter in leaf debris, so we’re switching it up.

I know it will be impossible to keep all the leaves out of the garden, but I don’t want big piles on each bed, so we’re trying in-bed composting. The basic concept is digging a big hole and adding your green material (plant debris, vegetable scraps, etc.) and brown material (dried leaves, shredded paper, etc.) and burying it. The idea is it will breakdown over the winter and add nutrients directly to the beds.

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I just saw this chart on The Ungardener blog. It’s a wonderful tool to help identify possible problems with your plants. Will definitely keep this on hand for next season.

The Ungardener

nutrient garden problems

I just LOVE little action packed charts like this one!  Thanks to www.thefreerangelife.com for this great chart of Nutrient Deficiencies in the Garden.  I will be paying close attention to it both in my red clay Virginia and rocky mountain Pennsylvania yards.


The UNgardener

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What's needed for soil testing.

What’s needed for soil testing.

As I mentioned in a previous post getting our soil nutrients right is one of the major goals of our garden this year. We bought a test kit from the county, and a few weeks ago we dug up samples from each bed and the ground to send to the lab.

There are two reasons we are testing our soil this year. The first is to get a good analysis of what nutrients are present. The tests will let us know how much magnesium, calcium, potassium and other important elements are in the ground.

Once we know that, we’ll have a better idea of how to amend the soil to give each vegetable its optimum level of each nutrient.

There was a big color difference between our ground and garden soils.

There was a big color difference between our ground and garden soils.

The second reason is to test for potentially toxic elements like lead or arsenic because our garden is around our garage. It’s been there for almost 60 years so who knows what might have spilled and/or leached into the ground around it.

It was kind of interesting to see the difference in the colors between the garden soil and the ground soil. It’s not a difficult process, and I’d recommended it to other gardeners.

Here’s what we did:

Step 1: Order the test kits. Our county doesn’t do it’s own testing, but they still sent us kits. They were $12 each and will be sent to the Michigan State soil lab.

Crush the dirt to a powder.

Crush the dirt to a powder.

Step 2: Dig a 6-8 inch hole from several different areas in the test area then mix everything together in a bucket. I used an old hanging basket pot.

Step 3: Spread the soil in an even later so it can dry out. We just put it on some old newspaper in our garage for a couple weeks.

Step 4: Once it’s dry, break it up as fine as possible. We just stepped on it and crushed the clumps with our shoes.

A fine mesh strainer separates particles from powder.

A fine mesh strainer separates particles from powder.

Step 5: Sift the dirt with a screen. We have one my grandpa used to use. This gets out leaves, twigs and any other objects. We found a rusty nail and a small piece of broken glass in ours.

Step 6: Use a fine mesh sifter to get even more particles out. It’s important that the dirt be almost a powder. We used a small strainer from our kitchen for this part.

Step 7: Once it’s sifted, measure out the correct amount the lab needs and send it in!

I’m excited to see the results and hope that they don’t find anything bad.

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With all of the issues we had the past two summers, something had to give in our garden. In an earlier post I wrote that we’re going to switch focus from disease/pest management to creating good soil and growing conditions.

From all my research the obvious place to start was compost, commonly referred to as black gold.

So where do we begin? We needed a bin of some sort to store all the organic material because our property is a small city lot without much extra space. But after that, was it really as easy as throwing in food scraps and dried leaves? For the most part, it actually is.

Our kitchen collector is filled with everything from banana and onion peels to tea bags and vegetable scraps.

Our kitchen collector is filled with everything from banana peels and tea bags to vegetable scraps.

We’re lucky that our county offers free composting classes for beginners and has a great website to answer any questions. I attended a class last spring and walked away with a good amount of information on what makes a successful compost pile.

As an added bonus, we got a free countertop container for our kitchen scraps and a coupon to buy a discounted bin.

The basics are easy: mix nitrogen-rich material with carbon-based material and let the microbes or earthworms do the dirty work. I’ve read a few conflicting “recipes” on what ratio makes the best compost. We’ve generally been following 2:1 – two parts carbon and one part nitrogen.

Though different ingredients have different carbon or nitrogen ratios, we don’t worry about that. It’s basically one bucket of fruit or vegetable scraps to two buckets of leaves or shredded newspaper.

Nitrogen-based: grass clippings, fruit or vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, plant trimmings, etc.

Carbon-based: dried leaves, shredded paper, wood chips, etc.

So far it seems to be working. When we started our compost bin it was filled to the brim with food scraps, dead plants from the garden and shredded leaves. Now it’s roughly half the size, and more and more of it looks like finished compost.

We’re considering getting another bin to make more compost and let the other one keep cooking for the spring.

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