West Mountain Farm

Pastured Pigs, Free-Range Chickens, Biodynamic Gardening, Homesteading

Archive for the tag “organic gardening”

Improving Soil

Good soil structure is paramount to a successful garden and is the first (earlier the better) place you should start when planning and preparing a garden. Tilth refers to the physical condition of the soil, good soil tilth is loose and friable to a depth that allows for good root penetration and proper drainage. Water shouldn’t stand for long in the garden nor should it run out immediately, proper drainage is a balance of the two extremes. Good soil should also be porous (small spaces for air) and resistant to compaction.

Soil is generally categorized as sandy, loamy, or clayey, the higher percentage of loam you have in your soil is generally better. Digging one spade deep into the ground and inspecting the soil when it is slightly moist (you should never work the soil when it is soaking wet or bone dry, it is not fun and it destroys the soil structure) should give you a good idea of what type of soil you have in various parts of your property. Obviously, you should select the sight with the best soil, proper drainage, and 8 plus hours of sun a day, but sometimes we don’t have this trifecta of garden heaven and we have to take matters into our own hands-soil amendment at our selected sight or existing garden spot.

If you have sandy soil and plan on planting something other than drought tolerant plants that like excellent drainage such as: rosemary, sunflowers, and succulents adding organic matter  will make your soil more loamy and retain moisture. Loamy soils need to be maintained over the years, add back as much or more of what you take out, leaving the earth better than when you started. Clayey soil needs greensand, regular sand, and organic matter to break up the clay and improve drainage. Clay soil also needs a load of topsoil to give you working soil in your lifetime (don’t break your back or wallet on clay soil). Barnyard manure (rabbit, cow, and chicken being my personal favorites) that is mixed with natural bedding such as straw is your top choice; it adds moisture retaining properties, nutrients, and microbes that bring your soil to life in each smelly shovelful. Add manure that is well-rotted or add it in winter time at least 2 months before planting. Other soil amendments that give your soil proper drainage and aeration are coffee grounds, peat moss, coco coir, kitchen scraps (egg shells, fruit, and vegetable peelings), rice hulls, cotton burr compost (or any other compost), green cover crops, chopped leaf mold, bark, and sawdust (except walnut or cherry). All of these things should be generously added to all types of soil to keep up with the demands of vegetable gardening for proper tilth, microbial life, and nutrients, eliminating the need for harsh synthetic fertilizers.

These amendments can be added in by double digging for poor soils or gently incorporated with a hoe or other garden tool if your soil isn’t compacted. Moderate use of a tiller or tractor can be used, being careful not to overwork the soil and destroy the very tilth you are trying to build. Also work the soil when it is moist like a sponge, if it forms mud, frozen or is very dusty wait another day.

To preserve your hard work try to have designated walking areas and stay out of the root zone/planting area. Add a 2-6 inch mulch to suppress weeds, moderate soil temperature, retain moisture and prevent erosion. Watch for slugs and root rot on susceptible plants. Pull the mulch back around the base of plants if you start to notice any root rot or pest problems hiding in your mulch. Heavy rains will erode and compact bare soils as well. Many things work as mulch, my preferred combination is cardboard or black and white newspaper, well rotted manure, then straw or bark mulch on top. This slowly breaks down and adds to the soil.

With these practices put into place year-round you can have 10-18 inches of earthy, chocolate-colored, workable dirt in as little as one season without further damaging our earth or watersheds, and your bountiful garden will be your reward.


Garden soil with visible mycorrhizae strands and various organic matter.

On the subject of topsoil creation- “It takes these processes perhaps 500 years to make one inch of soil, but man with his destructive farming practices can destroy an inch in only a few years.” -Organic Farming and Gardening Magazine-


Organic Pesticides

In a perfect garden the balance of bad bugs to good bugs would be so you would never have to use any sort of pesticide. Although a balanced ecology is what we strive for in our garden, sometimes certain bugs tip the balance and become too numerous, seriously harming the yield of a plant. So we turn to organic pesticides which don’t harm us, and are sometimes species specific. Even though organic pesticides are safer for the environment and humans, use sparingly, because many are indiscriminate killers, and can upset the natural ecology and ratio of good bugs to bad bugs in your garden. All pesticides in this article are broad spectrum pesticides. You always want to test one leaf to make sure it doesn’t burn the plant, and be very careful with seedlings and wait until they have at least their second set of leaves.

1. Clove – 1 tblsp of ground clove spice to 1 gallon of hot water or for a weaker solution boil 15 whole cloves in a medium sauce pan. Cool and Use. Dilute can be used on seedlings.

2. Neem oil- 1 tblsp per 2 quarts of warm water. Do not use on seedlings!

3. Pyrethrum- buy at the store or place a bunch of Chrysanthemums/ and some other plants in the aster family in hot water and let it steep for 1-3 days. Strain and use. Always spray from far away, a thin mist works best. Be cautious with seedlings.

4. Diatomacous earth- Pat DE powder on tops and undersides of leaves, try not to get wet for a couple of days. Buy whole DE (Anuway Hydroponcs in Rogers, AR carries this product) and spread in planters and around the garden. Deters ants from making homes in your pots, improves drainage, modulates moisture level, provides soil with silica and other minerals. Can be used on seedlings.

5. Soap- Mix 1 tblsp into your standard household sprayer and shake. Many different liquid soaps work.  Soap can also improve the effectiveness of numbers 1-3 when mixed together.

There are some ways to fight particularly pesky bugs. Hand smashing bugs still remains the best pesticide and don’t be afraid to let some bugs alone, this way they have time to attract the appropriate predator.

Happy Gardening!

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