I saw a recent article by Organic Gardening talking about preparing your soil for planting in the spring. The article titled, “Preparing Your Soil in Spring,”talks about working your soil to get it ready. They don’t use the word till, but do talk about working it, which is pretty much the same.
On the same Organic Gardening site they have an article on the benefits of no-till gardening. There conclusion is that no-till is both good for the gardener, the soil and the planet.
So what should a home gardener do?
While I’ve been a conventional gardener in the past, because I’ve had mostly perennial beds I have ended up basically in the no-till camp. I’m going to go even farther this year and use no fertilizer, but instead use compost and cover crops to improve my soils. Most of my research comes from the USDA-NRCS and their videos on YouTube which show the advantages of this method for conventional farms, but which should also apply to home gardeners.
While my main focus in the garden is butterflies, I also like to encourage hummingbirds to come and visit. Hummers like to use many of the same flowers that butterflies prefer, so it’s really easy to get them to come and visit.
I also like to put up feeders, but then the question is , “What date is the best?”
If you go to the website http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html, it will show you exactly where the hummingbirds are and help you predict when they will reach St. Louis.
One of the new ways of farming and gardening is to use cover crops to improve the soil structure and nutrients, instead of the traditional tilling and chemical fertilizers. I decided to try this on a test area that I use mainly for tropical milkweed. It’s one of the few areas in my yard that is open enough to plant extra seed.
March 16th I planted the Interseed Mix from Walnut Creek Seeds. I used half the packet and will reserve half in case the first seeding does poorly. I will later on plant my milkweed and hope all the crops will co-exist.
I noticed that they use Pro-Mix BX at Shaw Nature Reserve and wanted to compare that with the Ultimate All-Purpose variety.
Here are my comparisons based upon a phone conversation I had with a sales person.
They are basically the same except that BX has some Vermiculite added. They have the exact same ingredients except for the Vermiculite.
Home Depot cost for a 2 cu ft compressed (which expands into 4 cu ft loose) is $13.97
Worms Way has 2.8 cu ft loose for $ 23.50
Hummerts has a 3.8 cu ft compressed bale (7.6 cu ft loose) for approximately $47.00
The easy answer is to buy the Ultimate All-Purpose brand at Home Depot and save a lot of money. You could even add in some Vermiculite if you wanted and you’d still be way ahead.
Note – this brand does NOT have fertilizer so you will need to add some Osmocote when you transplant. It does have Mycorrhizae which are supposed to be beneficial for plant growth.
I took a course at the Shaw Nature Reserve on the process they use to collect seeds and all the steps to finally potting up the plant. Here are a few notes from that class.
- Collect seeds when they are ripe and are ready to fall off the plant.
- Put the seeds in a cardboard box or paper bag and let them dry for a couple of weeks. Don’t put them in a very hot sunny location. Temperature + humidity should not go over 150 degrees.
- There are many ways to get the seeds out of the flower head – crushing with wooden mallet, stepping on them.
- They then use various size screens to sift out the seeds.
- October 1st is when they start this.
- In general, they keep seeds in the refrigerator for three months, so they can then plant the seeds around January 1st.
- They use a mix of 2/3 peat moss and 1/3 fine sand – not construction sand.
- They moisten this mixture a lot until it is dripping wet.
- They put the seeds in a zip-lock bag. Mark on the bag the name of the plant and the date.
- Grab a handful of the mix and squeeze out the excess water and put in in with the seeds. You may need another handful to have enough to cover and mix well with the seed.
- Seal up the bag and mix it well.
- After 45 days check the bags and look for mold. If you see some, break up the mold in the bag with your hands.
- Put this in the refrigerator – not the freezer.
Some seeds need a way to break that outer coat. This is mainly for legumes. You can either put them between two pieces of sand-paper or try putting them in boiling water for 24 hours. Then do a 2 week cold-stratification.
- They use PRO-MIX BX W/MYCORRHIZAE as the seed starting medium. Note- I have found this at “Worms Away.” Some Home Depots have a product similar to this.
- Wet this mixture first as it is very dry.
- For new seeds they use new trays or ones that have been cleaned with 10% bleach.They want to keep disease to a minimum.
- Place it in a shallow tray. They don’t want a deep tray so that it is easier to heat.
- Press the soil down a little, but don’t make it tight. Make sure that soil is below the lip of the container.
- Take the seeds and peat moss out of the baggie and put them on top of the soil.
- Cover the soil with a light coating of soil. Small seeds may not any covering at all.
- Water everything.
- They then use a temperature controlled heat mat. They keep it at 70 degrees. Note – my lights with the plastic cover keep the soil at 74 degrees. When I use the heat mat, the soil temperature goes int0 the 80-85 degree range which my Tropical Milkweed seems to like.
- They water 3-4 times a day from the top using a watering can. They use well water. Note – this seems like a pain – I prefer using the plastic lid and watering from the bottom.
- When there are true leaves, that’s the 2nd set of leaves, they transplant.
- They transplant into a mix from the St. Louis composting, but are not excited about it as it is irregular in size and quality. Note – I will probably use the same Pro-Mix.
- They also put 2 to 4 plants together instead of trying to break apart individual plants. They say that the plants do better this way. It certainly makes it easier to transplant. They said they did a test with some plants and that the group of plants did better than the individual plants. Note – this would be an interesting test.
- They also add Osmocote to the top of the soil mix, about a hundred pellets per pot, but said they are going to just add it to the soil in the future.
- The pots they use when transplanting are not cleaned, but are just reused old pots.
- They use a fan for air circulation.
- They said that they also use liquid fertilizer, but I’m not sure why since they also use Osmocote. That might be an interesting experiment and try different combinations.
- They have lights on from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Purple and Common Milkweed need larger pots.
- Tuberosa is fine in a smaller pot.
Book – Growing and Propagating Wildflowers – William Cullina
The Xerces Society has just published a PDF titled, “Conservation Status and Ecology of the Monarch Butterfly in the United States.” It’s conclusion is that the Eastern Monarch is “vulnerable to extinction,”at least in the United States.
This is a 25 page report which has lots of interesting information about the Monarchs and says that we need to restore from 1.5 to 8 million acres of habitat.
The main culprits are use of herbicides on GMO crops, loss of habitat in Mexico, climate change and storms, the OE parasite, and pesticide use.
It doesn’t look good for the Monarch as it is being attacked on multiple fronts. I was happy to see the population double last year.
I just visited a local school and we started some seeds.When it came time to find a location for the seeds, it was a bit of a challenge. They had a closet with one small bulb which obviously would not work and they also had a window area which was ok, although a bit cold.
Ideally, they could buy a shop light and use that for both seed germination and light for the plants. Initially, I put the shop light right on top of the plastic tray top and it helps to generate heat for better germination.
Here are a few ideas from other sources on how to take a basic shop light and make it usable as a grow light for plants.
Below is the system I use with just wire shelving and 4 bulb fluorescent lights.
Using wood, you could create a way to hang the light fixture.