Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Giving back to the soil what the veggies take out

I have been thinking about the veggie seeds that I  grow for immediate consumption.  I suppose they just take from the soil, then covert it into vitamins and other goodies that we in turn use when we eat them.  I have been reading a lot about how much more nutritious our home grown organic vegetables are than those sold in most grocery stores. There are all different ways that I continually add goodness back into the soil, because if the growing vegetables are taking it out, then I better be replacing it with something. I am cropping quite intensely and also want to try to produce food year round.  I know outright of a few things I do to amend the soil, but wonder if there is something else I am missing.  If I want to take so much out of the soil how do I know I am putting enough back?
Generally in this area of the tropics vegetables are grown in the "winter" or dry season, and the ground is left fallow for the wet season.  I want to grow year round, and if the wet season crop is not for eating then it better be feeding the soil.
Perrenials:
I have a few perrenials in the veggie patch.  2 Asparagus were planted as two year crowns two years ago and then I have two other plants grown from seeds planted two years ago.  I am still playing around with when to harvest and how to mulch and whether to cut the plants back entirely.  They never totally die down in this climate.  Other perrenials include galangal, lemongrass, ginger, mushroom plant, basil, sawtooth coriander, mother of herbs.  Some of these are cut right back in the winter to allow part of the perrenial beds to be used for other crops.
Nitrogen fixing plants:
Certain beans and legumes fix nitrogen into the soil, and they do this better if the seed is coated with an innoculant.  The first time I planted pigeon peas I got the seeds with an innoculant, I think I need to do that again. The innoculant needs to be fresh and formulated to a specific seed. Pinto peanuts are another plant grown in this area to fix nitrogen when it is slashed back into the soil, therefore also adding many other different nutrients.  Plants that are grown merely to amend the soil are also known as green manures.
Rotation of crops:
I know that solanacous plants  (tomatoes, eggplants etc)  should not be grown in the same location year after year.  Lucky gardeners with large gardens can have a nice little rotation going, but I  don't have that much room.  I was planning to grow tomatoes again in the center bed next year, and then this eggplant volunteered right in the middle of the bed, and has been going strong all winter.  I let it be because I love eggplant, but I realize I am flouting my own rule.  Opening up two beds along the back fence has allowed more beds, but funnily enough tomatoes just have not grown well there this year. I grew marvelous cherry tomatoes in the center bed the first year I was here and am anxious to grow them there again next winter.
Soil amendments:
I normally add some kind of manure based pellets once or twice a year, at the beginning of each planting season.  I also pick up seaweed and spread it as mulch once or twice a year, especially around the asparagus.  I am continually making compost, and add a large amount just before planting each season.  I have also used seaweed, comfrey, fish emulsion, and weed tea as foliar feeds throughout the year. Sulphate of potash and trace elements have also been added this year.  My soil continuously shows up as 7 on my trusty little ph meter.  Either I have very consistent soil or else my trusty little meter is broken.
sorry - no photos this time, just my thoughts.

16 comments:

  1. It is sweet indeed to be considerate, being generous and thankful. It's about giving back , returning the soil to its optimum condition again and again.....

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    1. Yes I like that idea of the circle too.

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  2. What a wonderful post, it just reminds me how little I actually know about growing vegetables. Thank you for helping me understand it better.....

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    1. Well I wouldn't say I know so much, just trying to keep it all together to see what works best. If anything I said helps anyone else I am happy and grateful to all those I learned from. Yet another circle :0

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  3. A fascinating and informative post. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  4. I hear the echo of some of my own attempts and concerns in your post. Crop rotation is a tough one because some locations just work for some plants like along fences or in full sun or with lots of shade or whatever, but I'm trying.

    Perennials really wreak havoc with my soil improvement plans. I used to plant a bed with a mix of things, including perennials, but learnt that meant it was very rare that a bed was empty enough to revitalise it. I now try to plant in sections so when the season is over I can clear it out, add a lot of compost and manure, fork it all over and start again. Which is in direct contradiction to the idea of permaculture.

    The concepts seem pretty obvious and easy, the execution is much more problematic.

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    1. Laura,
      I hear you, and find that I sometimes cross over from one method to the other. I never used to disturb the soil and yet the other day while transplanting some lettuces, I forked the section into a fine tilth thinking the little roots would like something to grab onto. Will see how they do.

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  5. I know for a fact that the health of the soil determines the quality of the yield. And so I guess its a gardeners thing to always keep watch the quality of the soil.

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  6. Hi African Aussie!
    As usual, an interesting post! - I too have problems with crop rotation as I dont have the luxury of many ideal spots fo my veges!

    I have also popped over to award you a "One Lovely Blog" Award! Hope you enjoy the nomination and pop on over to accept your award sometime soon! Cheers - Kara x

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    1. Hello, thank you! I am honored. That is always a good way to find new and interesting blogs.

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  7. I have great respect for those who have great respect for the soil that provides all the minerals for their plants. In fact, in my garden, we're using a soil conditioner which is bio-organic, and I'm so pleased at the difference this is making to my plants.
    Happy gardening.

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    1. that sounds interesting, I am a great believer in lots of variety in what we add to the soil.

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  8. I'm glad I'm not the only one with rotation anxiety. I try to rotate but also have to take into account where I can fit the things in that i want to grow.
    With the asparagus, I cut mine back to ground level a few weeks ago and mulched heavily (like the book says) but already have a couple of shoots coming up. I'm going to try harvesting them and see what they're like.

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    1. Plants seem to have a mind of their own too! I was trying to keep solanacea out of the central bed, but a wonderfully healthy eggplant has set up home there. I heard that you need to let some fronds grow to feed the root system - mine never totally die down, and I mostly just harvest a shoot if I see a particularly tasty one while I am out in the garden. - they never make it to the table!

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