" IT'S OUR GARDEN 't By Elizabeth and Crow Mille_

Organic Growing Starts With Balanced Building Of the Soil

For us, the outdoor gardening season starts not in March or April, but in November. Organic gardening, after all, begins with the soil. The results you have gotten in this year's garden are largely a product of the quality of your soil-. If you weren't quite satisfied with this years results the fall is the time to prepare the soil for next year's improvement.

The first thing to do is to test your soil. You should get a complete soil analysis, not just a p/H test, but also primary nutrients ( N-P-K ) Secondary nutrients; Calcium, (Ca.) Magnesium (Mg.) and Sulphur (Su) and Trace Minerals (T.M.). But a p/H test is essential, any normal gardening activity tends to lower the soil's p/H, a light application of Dolomitic limestone (54% Ca. and 44% Mg.) will b ring the soil back up toward the desired neutral range (a p/H of 7.0).

Next, Chop-up all garden refuse, plants that have yielded all they are capable of, and those that have already been killed by frost. Do not touch; parsnips, carrots, horseradish, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes ( Sun-Roots as Native American's called them), and other root crops that can stay in the ground through the winter under mulch.

We find the easiest way to handle autumn refuse is to go through OUR GARDEN, with a scythe or weed-eater, leveling everything. After Elizabeth has chopped-up all the old plants, I make several passes through OUR GARDEN with the tiller. This does a fin job in shredding the materials for fast sheet-composting in ground.

At this point, you can spread compost and a balanced organic fertilizer (4-6-4, 5-3-7, or depending on your soil test results recommend to apply over the entire garden. All will add fertility, true, but more important is the soil structure that these materials will build. If your soil is too sandy, organic matter will help to build up its water-retention capability. If you are faced with a heavy clay soil, get quantities of organic green sand and add this to the other materials, to lighten the soil provide a more hospitable environment for plant root growth.

By next April, all this organic matter will have decomposed to a considerable degree. It is surprising how much composting activity actually takes place over the winter, even during the frigid days when there seems to be no possibility of life.

Nature abhors a bare soil. This is obvious even to the casual observer.

Prairies, forests, wetlands, every piece of land capable of supporting vegetation will contribute to the Earth's green carpet without our help. And so it should be in OUR GARDEN. A winter cover changes the effects of frigid temperatures, helping to prolong the activity of soil micro-organisms in breaking down organic matter. With a mulch, however, the soil won't freeze, enabling the earthworms to adapt gradually, retreat to underground burrows, and survive to the next season.

There are two kinds of winter covering to consider. One is a heavy mulch of organic material; leaves, hay or straw are most common, since they are easily available, but any kind will suffice. The other is a planting of winter rye-grass. It should be planted early enough (here on Long Island September 15th) to make good progress before the first frosts come.(Oct.30th It can be tilled under shortly before planting time in spring. Live cover crops such as rye is also called green manure, because they build-up the soil

1996 / Crow Miller, Syndication / The Garden / Fall / #61