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The Real Dirt

Helen Hartung opened her wonderful garden to us and she and Judy Kirschner spoke about how learning about your soil will make you a better gardener. They explained (with visual aids!) our slightly troublesome clay soil, amendments and fertilizers - and how to read the packaging. We have a new appreciation of loam.

Some of the pointers we learned included:

-All soil made of sand, silt and clay. Our neighborhood is heavy on the clay side, which is alkaline (base, not acid) and doesn't drain well. So plants that required 'well drained soil' don't fair well here.

-Don't walk on soil after it rains, it will compact the root systems, and become almost cement-like when dried out.

-Twice a year (spring and fall) it's good to feed your soil, but not in the old 'double dig' method. Instead, spread 2 " of high-quality compost such as Soil Building Conditioner by G&B Organics, and 1" of worm castings such as WormGro around the base of each plant. Water deeply and let it filter into the soil over time. Cover with mulch on top of that to hold in moisture and discourage weeds.

-They discourage use of Miracle Grow and other chemical fertilizers. These non-organic products can burn plants and worms, may give plants a fast boost, but ultimately leach away the good aspects of soil and contaminate groundwater.

-To really build your soil health, add some pure mycorrhizal innoculant to your soil conditioner. Mykos (at Anawalt) or John & Bob's Optimize are expensive but incredibly effective. As we learned last year, mychorrhizae is a fungus that grows alongside the roots of plants in a symbiotic and mildly pathogenic relationship, that allows a network for nutrition and water to travel between plants.

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