Organic Gardening and Soil Notes

Yesterday I went to a program that included an organic gardener and a soil scientist. Here are the notes from the programs.

Kris Larson – Organic Gardener from Alton, Illinois.

  • He tills most of his beds. Not recommended by the USDA.
  • He use BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) – this is a good reason to be very careful if you are trying to feed parsley to Black Swallowtail caterpillars.
  • This was mainly a “classroom” approach to organic gardening. No pictures or videos of his farm.
  • He emphasizes keeping your gardens small enough to manage. He down-sized last year.

Ross Braun – Soil Scientist – retired from USDA

  • Apple demonstration
  • He recommends the book – How to Lie with Statistics
  • To show kids the effect of capillary action use celery and colored water (also paper towel and colored water)
  • Possibly add red wiggler worms to school soils if they are very degraded. One person said that their schools soil had no worms even after two years of adding organic matter.
  • Raindrop impact – picture on wikipedia – keep your soil covered.
  • Organic Farming Handbook
  • Watch videos by Ray Archuleta to see most of what he said.
  • 50% of corn farmers use no-till while 38% of organic farmers use no-till or minimum till. ( from the handbook above)

Other Notes

  • St. Louis Composting – said that you don’t have to add compost every year. They also talked about biochar. They don’t have a biochar product at this time.  They do have a program to help schools.

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National Organic Farming Handbook

Here’s a free book just out from the USDA. While it is meant for large farms, the principles can still be applicable to small home gardens. Here’s the link.


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Jesse Gilbertson – U City in Bloom

jesse-gilbertsonAt a recent GPHA (Gateway Professional Horticulturist Association) meeting, Jesse Gilbertson, who is the Horticulture Director for U City in Bloom, talked to us about what the group has been doing for the last thirty years. If he does this again, I’d encourage you to attend. It’s a great program for groups trying to put in gardens for a city. Here are a few notes from that presentation.

  • Mission Statement – Our mission is to enhance and beautify our community through public gardens, community partnerships, citizen involvement and environmental education.
  • 114 containers – 76 hanging baskets, 8 school properties, 115 – garden beds and 64 gardens -some big some small.
  • It’s a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
  • He doesn’t put in any new garden without a water source. Find money to get irrigation – at least a spigot.
  • On some of the front beds, they are all annuals. “Eyecandy.”
  • Depending on the bed, he uses a mix of annuals, perennials, cultivars,  natives etc. He gets some criticism for using some non-native plants.
  • Recommends the book – Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape by Lynden Miller (Tom has this book.)
  • Talks about developing wildlife corridors.
  • They do have a water “truck” to water containers.
  • They work with Forestry and Parks Department and ask for help when needed.
  • Raising Money is a big part of what they do.
  • Plant Sales – they get plants from residents gardens and re-pot them up for sale.
  • Garden Tour
  • Donations and Grants
  • Ask for free plants from nursery.
  • He also asks June Hutson – MoBot for divisions of certain plants.
  • Some money from the city and the school district.
  • They have about 200 volunteers all together –  12 to 15 which volunteer on a regular basis in the beds. They also look for volunteer groups – companies?
  • Total revenue is about $160,000.
  • Have signs on all of their beds.
  • They do have events in some of their gardens with other organizations.
  • They don’t use Preen or landscape fabric.
  • Median – they put in water lines/irrigation, but have to watch for not blocking car sight lines.
  • They try to create a Bouquet theme – lots of different flowers and color.
  •  He went through a list of plants that he likes – here is the link from his blog.
  • He uses  wholesale plant sources
    He also use local nurseries.
  • He uses a lot of Calamentha nepeta – catnip.
  • They use a lot of Hardy Hibiscus.
  • New England Aster – October Skies
  • They send out a paper newsletter every year and also use a lot of social media.

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Seed Ball Test Results

Why Seed Balls?

This question was asked of me and I’ll give a few reasons that Seed Balls might be useful.

  1. Fun to make with kids. It gets kids involved and interested in gardening. The kids can then take them home to plant outside.
  2. Easy to plant. Some people can’t be bothered to plant a seed, but might be convinced to drop a seed ball into a garden area. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
  3. Seed balls protect the seeds from birds and keeps the seeds from blowing away.
  4. Guerrilla Gardening – sometimes there may be an area that needs some flowers, but you don’t legally and technically own the property. Just throw a few seed balls into the area and see what happens. I of course, can’t condone this activity, but I’ve heard that some people do this.


I tested three different seed ball combinations and found that probably all three would work. I used a combination of compost and clay on the top two trials and a combination of ProMix and clay in the lower picture.


The Promix is lighter and definitely falls apart better than the compost. The picture below is how it falls apart after about a month. We had a lot of rain over that period, so in colder temperatures, it would hold together longer.


Compost and Clay – for some reason the 10 to 1 ratio seems to be falling apart better than the 15 to one ratio. This is just the opposite of what I’d expect.

Red Clay – this is a dry clay that I bought at a local pottery store.

Water – just add enough so that you can roll the ball.

Seeds – after you make a ball, I add three seeds and roll again into a ball. You can be as creative as you’d like, but realize that most of the seeds will germinate with an inch or so of each other.

Results – I’d use the ten 10 to one ratio. You can use either compost or ProMix or whatever artificial potting mix you have. The Potting Mix will fall apart quicker. If you are putting out your seeds balls in the fall, it probably won’t matter, but if you are planting them in the spring, I’d use the ProMix and clay combination.



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Grow Native Program – Soil – Pollinators – Organic Gardening

Saturday, November 21, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Location – Meramec Comm. College

There is a $35 fee.

Here’s the link for more information.

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America in Bloom Program

america-in-bloomPRESENTED BY: Dr. Charlie Hall, President, America in Bloom

WHEN/WHERE: Thursday, December 10, 2015, 10:00a.m. – 12:00 noon.

WHERE: Washington City Auditorium, Lower Level, 211 High St, Washington, MO 63090.

AUDIENCE: All citizen champions and civic organizations of the region interested to make a difference in their community by realizing landscape and environmental enhancements.

COST: NO admission cost; free and open to all interested citizens of the region.

HOSTED By: Washington (Missouri) in Bloom in collaboration with Kirkwood in BLOOM.

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Missouri Seedling Order Form

tulip-poplar-400One of the cheapest ways to buy trees and bushes is to order from the Missouri Department of Conservation Department.  Prices run from $.16 to $.80 per seedling. You can start ordering on November 1st.

While the prices are inexpensive, most times you have to buy ten to twenty-five at a time. This would be a great project for a garden club or get together with your neighbors and share a bundle of trees/bushes.

The pictured tree is a Tulip Poplar which is a host plant for the Tiger Swallowtail.

Here are some links:


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