It's all about the soil, baby!


Saturday morning was what we've come to expect for events at the Teaching Garden - cold, drizzly, chilly, damp, and just plain brrrrr!  At least it wasn't ice fog this time.

You know a person is a hardcore gardener when they will venture out in the cold, early on a weekend morning to boot.  We had a great showing of those hardcore gardeners Saturday for Master Gardener Mark Johnson's soil and cold frame workshop.

Mark brought one of his own PVC cold frames and allowed attendees to get some hands-on experience in assembly.

The design is simple, Mark said, and the parts are fairly inexpensive.  Connectors, he noted, are the most expensive part of the design, and he suggested this site for some of the best prices. The cold frame plans can be found here.

Once participants had assembled and then disassembled the cold frame, the real fun began, as we all got to put our hands in the soil.  Mark brought along samples of his garden soil -  a rich mix full of nutrients and microbes.

Mark's miracle soil is the result of several years of building it up through the use of cover crops.  "I never let my soil just sit there," he said. "It's always in use."

He recommended annual rye grass, which, he noted, is allelopathic.  Allelopathic, which we will deem today's vocabulary word, means that a plant inhibits the growth of other plants around it.  To be precise:

Allelopathy;is a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the germination, growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms.

Mark suggests the rye grass be worked into the soil at least two weeks before planting your vegetable crops, in order for the growth inhibitors to dissipate.  

Mark also talked a bit about compost.  He suggested coffee grounds as an excellent addition to your compost pile.  The question was asked if they could be added directly to the garden.  He said yes, it was certainly ok to do that, but warned that the addition of "green" materials, or those undigested by microbes, will disrupt the soil.  The microbes and free nitrogen in the soil will be busy breaking down those new materials, rather than working to make your veggies grow.

He also noted that, once you have that top-notch soil, it's ok to add a few green items now and then, as you'll have microbes to spare.

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to get some rye grass for my empty beds!  


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