Garden Dirt: Success is All About The Soil

Garden expert Ray Greenstreet calls this his favorite garden product.
(Courtesy photo)

Put Your Money in the Root Zone

by Ray Greenstreet

Spring fever is sweeping our area. Warmer days have us dreaming of gardens lush with abundant growth and vibrant color. What does it take to be a success in the garden? What secret does your neighbor know that you don’t? The answer may surprise you.

It’s all about the roots. It’s all about your soil. A customer can buy the best plant, one we have grown right here on our farm, but if the customer’s soil(s) is poor, lacking aeration, poor porosity, poor ion exchange capacity (nutrient holding capacity), nutrient deficiencies and it is hard as a rock, they will not be a success. They will have to work twice as hard to have half of the results. The best investment a gardener can make to become a success, is to put “money in the ground.”

Invest in the root zone of your plants

This one step will make a poor gardener an overnight star. It not only will reduce a lot of frustration and worry, but will save money, produce healthier plants, reduce disease, increase drought tolerance and utilize fertilizer and water more efficiently.

Most soil in Alexandria is either clay or concrete – neither of which is hospitable to growing much. Properly preparing the planting bed or container is the first step to success. It is an easy step. After cleaning off any dead plant material, old leaves, weeds or trash that may have blown in over the winter, work in a soil amendment. Added to existing soil, a good organic amendment will help correct soil deficiencies, soil structure, and nutrient deficiencies. It improves physical and biological characteristics of the soil, improves porosity, aeration, water holding capacity. It will increase organic content, to improve and better utilize fertilizer. The bottom line? A soil amendment is great gardening insurance.

Over the years successful gardeners used to add homemade compost, manure, egg shells, coffee grinds and all short of items to improve the garden soil. These all work just fine, and anything you do to improve your soil will help improve your garden.

After many years of gardening, and watching my parents prepare our family garden and flower beds when I was growing up, I have found a complete soil amendment I love and highly recommend. I normally don’t talk about one product over another in this column, but this is one I have to talk about to make our gardeners more successful.

Bumper Crop Organic Soil Amendment

Produced by the Coast of Maine, Bumper Crop is my favorite garden product – my favorite key success in the garden. Bumper Crop is seafood based and super charged with worm castings (adds great biology), composted shell fish, (lobster shells), composted cow manure, kelp meal, dehydrated poultry manure, and mycorrhizae. Nearly all plants rely on mycorrhizal fungi for nutrients and moisture. The plant performs photosynthesis and other above-ground functions, and the fungi handle underground nutrition-gathering and protect the roots. Soils are greatly improved by the fungi sending millions of tiny root-threads far out from the plant roots. These root-threads separate clay platelets to allow essential air and water into the root zone, or will bind together sandy soil to form a moisture-holding biomass. Marginal, salty, and damaged soils can often be made productive with the introduction of mycorrhizal fungi.

Soil amendments should be added in a 70/30 mix (70% existing soil to 30% amendment). If your soil is exceptionally heavy with clay, go a little heavier with the amendment. Till it into the ground at least a foot; the deeper, the better. When planting a tree, perennial or shrub add it to the hole you dig and work it in around the new planted root ball.

Smart gardeners are using compost made from lobster shells to bolster vegetable and flower crops.
(Courtesy photo)

Secret Weapon Lobster Compost

Over the years we spend a great deal of time looking for products that make sense, ones that improve our gardener’s chance of success. Products that have been perhaps something else or are a bi-product that we can use in the garden, that we can repurposed instead of ending up in a landfill. Lobster compost is just one of those products. What in the world do they do with all those Maine lobsters shells? Dump them in the ocean? Put them in the land fill? No! Compost them for our gardeners.

One of the other challengers that face vegetable gardeners is blossom end rot on that beautiful tomato you have been watching ripen, only to rot on the end just before you harvest. Blossom end rot is a lack of moisture and calcium to the tomato fruit; calcium is the number one nutrient plants need. Lobster compost is body or shells of a lobster after the meat has been removed. The shell has nitrogen in it and calcium from the shell is released as the shell composts. It is rich in humic acid, great for growing roots, and is a sweet organic amendment that works dynamically in both vegetable and flower gardens.

It amazes me you don’t hear more about the soils and roots. It really is the key to success in the greenhouse, in your vegetable garden or in your pots. A whole world of bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, algae, and protozoa, plant roots, mycorrhizal fungi, chemical reactions are just below the soil surface. The good news is you don’t need to be a soil scientist to be a great gardener. Just a little common sense, thinking about soil, add a good amendment and/or compost and let Mother Nature do the rest.

One final important ingredient: Seek advice. My garden center and others love to talk about plants, and they’ll help you make well-informed choices.

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