Monday, January 30, 2012

January 30, 2012

The garden in January
The Farmer’s Almanac prediction for South Carolina’s 2011-2012 winter has been spot-on forecasting a “very mild, very wet” season - we're loving it!

Winter parsley
Rosemary in January bloom
I wouldn’t say we’ve been busy gardening over the past three months, but we have been making plans.  We enjoyed a near continuous harvest of carrots, greens, cabbage, and brussels sprouts from our winter garden.  This mild weather has encouraged us outdoors to make some structural improvements.  When it's not raining, winter in our Zone 7 climate is the perfect time to build planting beds, lay mulch, and prune fruit trees. 

Frozen pumpkins
It’s also a good time to test garden soil for pH and other nutrients.  Acidity or alkalinity of the soil determines what can grow, and whether it will thrive or starve.  Soil that leans too far either way will inhibit plants from taking up the nutrients they need.  Last year we just threw our plants in and hoped they did well (they did, but…).  This year we will begin a more scientific approach.  A simple soil test kit showed our soil four inches deep is a 7.5 on the pH scale, neutral to slightly alkaline.  Most garden plants grow best in the 6.0 to 7.0 range, slightly acidic.  We need to lower the pH about one point.  We will broadcast iron sulfate at the recommended rate and till it under to do this.  Many gardeners lime their soil, raising the pH value if soil is acidic; oak trees are notorious for acidifying soil since their brown leaves and acorns leach tannic acid.  Our neighborhood was planted with maples and conifers, birch and dogwood, so there is no acid effect on our soil.  The only way to know what to add is to test.  We are aiming for a 6.5 value which probably will not happen this year, but this is a start. 
Our soil is between neutral 7.0 and alkaline 8.0

Our soil is also deficient in some micronutrients, especially calcium, which is crucial for fruit set in tomato and pepper plants, and for strong broccoli.  A broadcasting of calcium nitrate will amend this deficiency while boosting soil fertility where these plants will grow; raspberries also seem to love it.  Crushed and composted egg shells would do the same, but that would take a lot of eggs, and it’s going to be another year or more before we get into raising hens.  Blueberries feed on the ammonium form of nitrogen, and since they like acidic soil, we added ammonium sulfate to help keep them happy.  Finally, as fruit trees prepare for blossom and fruit set, we will broadcast an all-around general fruit tree fertilizer at the root zone.

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Dedicated to the responsible production and preservation of healthy home-grown food to the glory of God. Isaiah 55:10 The rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater. Organic, or not? We try to raise vegetables organically, using compost and manure. The addition of chickens to our hobby farm means plenty of organic nitrogen to compost! This site gives credible reference to planting information contained in the Farmer's Almanac (