I moved to Lakeside eight years ago and one of the attractions for buying my home was a small, gated garden. What a boon! I could grow vegetables and enjoy a cornucopia of homegrown organic tomatoes, peppers, melons, beans, snow peas, lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, onions, garlic—everything and anything!
I spent money purchasing gardening tools, fertilizers, soil amendments, and seeds. I was READY! I proceeded to dig, dig, dig to loosen the compacted soil and then I scattered many bags of cow manure across my hand tilled garden. I bought bags of topsoil to spread on top of the manure and proceeded to plant seeds as well as starts that I purchased from local nurseries. Nothing really grew, especially all the tomato and pepper seeds that I planted. The harvest didn’t yield much, as I recall. Oh! The mint starts that I planted did very well. As a matter of fact, it did so well, it grew all over the garden. And I had plenty of weeds too.
The following year, I found White Mountain Community Garden and that’s when my gardening learning curve changed directions. Over the years, I’ve learned many gardening tips and techniques from my fellow WMCG’ers. I took master gardening classes and classes from Kim Howell Costion, who is a local wealth of information on gardening in the White Mountains.
First and foremost: test the soil in your garden. It never occurred to me to go that route. I discovered that our soil here tests at 8 pH or higher, which is alkaline. It’s important to lower the pH levels to 7, even 6.5 for successfully growing many fruit and vegetables. But one of the most important rules for good gardening is: No Dig, No Till.
WMCG follows a “No Till Rule”—but to tell the truth, there is some tilling. There are times when opening new spaces for gardening, the soil needs to be tilled and turned; but once that is done, we try not to dig or till in the future. Why? Because we live in the “Soil Food Web.”
Starting at the very bottom of the all-inclusive food chain, microscopic life feeds, breeds and produces organic waste that keeps the soil healthy. These single cell microbes feed larger predators that do the same thing. As the food chain continues to feed and support larger predators such as insects, worms, larvae, the food chain elevates to support all life below and above the soil surface. In addition to the microbes, fungi also live and propagate deep in the soil to feed microbes, develop sprouting seeds, nurture and protect roots of plants. The Soil Food Web is a symbiotic universe that feeds all living plants and animals.
A popular term for healthy soil is, Mychorrizae (pronounced, My-core-rye-zay) which is the combination of microbes and fungi to feed and inoculate seeds and young plants to provide a healthy growth environment in the soil. The combination of microbes and fungi in Mychorrizae provides a healthy start for seeds and roots to feed and retain water as the plant grows.
Tilling destroys the fungal networks as well as the organic components that make the soil healthy. Once established, adding layers of organic green and brown matter on top of the soil feeds the living organisms that break down the matter into healthy, living soil. This method of layering organic matter to decompose on the garden site, is called, “Lasagna Gardening”. Hang up the shovel and when you’re ready to plant, use a fork or rake to lightly loosen the soil. (To be continued.)