Heavy garden digging

Really cleaned out the garden. Anything that wasn’t on the A list – looking strong and producing – is history. It will look like a totally different garden by the end of the month. Well, it really will be a totally different garden by the end of the month. I expected the job to be a half hour or so since I had been working it a bit at a time and the last area to be cleaned was about 200 SF where the corn had tried to grow. I wanted to break the one large row into two narrower ones with a walkway in between. Seemed fairly straightforward but with the first shovel I ran into a layer of gravel and limestone less than a foot beneath the surface – no doubt the source of all the soil alkalinity and why the corn grew so poorly. The only real thing to do was to dig it out. That ended up being 8 wheel barrows full. Turns out I had a place for the fill but hadn’t planned on using it right now. Remember the green house I bought? The plan was to put it up today, another one hour kind of job but to do it really correctly, I needed to clean out the area where it was to go and level the ground. I had already decided to put up the green house and do the cleaning and leveling at some other time but here I was with all this fill and no place to dump it. By the time I got done digging, filling, and leveling I was three hours into it and worn to a frazzle and still had the green house to assemble.

One thing I’ll do differently next summer is wait until September to plant cucumbers. I planted them too early for a good crop. It was just too hot and buggy in July and August. We did get some but they were just not up to par. Other lessons learned are to plant much more okra. Everybody loves it and 15 plants just doesn’t produce enough for all the customers. It wasn’t an issue last year because they were too woody to even give away. Next summer, after I’ve worked the PH and fertility issues, I’ll try corn again with an August planting and then put in the squash after the corn has a nice head start. I’m reasonably convinced that I can get two full corn plantings when all the conditions are right.

I’m learning that adjusting the PH of the soil is easier said than done. I assumed that spreading the ammonium sulphate in the recommended amount would get the job done. Turns out the the amount required is a function of the soil itself and if the soil is highly organic, not so easy. Organic material, that would be compost, “buffers” the chemical reaction. Buffers means that it interferes/slows down/mediates the direct action of the chemicals so that the transition from base to acid requires more reagent than it would, in say, a more mineral based soil. Just how much more is quite a bit more difficult to determine because of the chemical complexity of the organic material in the soil. In a way I was a little surprised to find the PH so basic to start with for a couple of reasons. Two years ago I had the soil tested and it was alkaline/basic so I spread sulphur in the recommended amount. Also, I loaded up the compost with citrus, and you have to know that’s acidic. So I was actually expected the results to show I was too acid and would need to spread some lime to sweeten it. Surprise! So why do I even care about the PH of the soil? Turns out that being slightly acid allows fertilizer in the soil to be absorbed by the plants – that would be most, but not necessarily all, vegetables. So if the PH is on the basic side (higher than 7.0), you can load the ground up with fertilizer and it does no good at all. Lower the PH and all of a sudden the nutrients can be absorbed by the plants. I never knew that PH and fertility were interrelated.

The interesting thing about all this is that by and large I’ve been getting great produce this season and last season as well. If I ever get all these variable correct, I can’t imagine how much better it will be. I’ll need a road side stand.

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