This post gives you simple examples from my spring garden on ways to work with nature to continually and easily help restore fertility to your soil. They involve little or no cost and very little effort.
Here’s How Plants Can Benefit the Garden
My garden is transitioning to crops of the main growing season. Plants in the picture below benefit in many ways before they set seed, die and then help restore fertility. Here are 5 ways:
- Some provide food for me during the fall, winter, and early spring.
- Bloom provides food in early spring for beneficial insects. In order to be there when the pests show up, they need food and shelter before the pest insects arrive.
- Not much nectar and pollen is available in most gardens for bees in early spring. These plants provide that.
- Roots help build soil structure.
- Roots provide a home and food for microorganisms. (They in turn decompose organic material which will then allow plants to more easily take up nutrients. And some of them can’t colonize without living roots.)
Diversity is an Important Principle
The diversity of the organic materials will enhance mineral content in the soil and thus increase nutrient value in your crops. Another reason why wild plants can hep your garden.
Most of what you see in the picture reseeds in my garden each year. Seed germinates in the fall or late winter. By April or May plants bloom; then set and drop seed. As plants die off or as I need the space for crops (whichever comes first) I pull them up.
What I do with the Plants Once They’re Pulled
Sometime I lay them on the sides of the beds. Sometime they’re placed in the paths.
If I have an abundance I’ll make a pile in between a row. By the end of the season you’ll have a pile of rich soil. Dirt can be spread back onto the beds. But often I use them as planting mounds.
An Example of What Can Be Done
This year I’ve already used one of last years mounds to plant tall peas. The seed was saved from last year’s planting.
I won’t freeze any of these as I do regular peas (although I could), but rather use them to enhance daily salads. There will also be plenty to allow some to dry on the vine for planting next year.
A flattened tomato cage will be their support since they climb and grow tall.
Below is a picture of two “weed” piles from this spring (circled in pink) along the edge of my borders:
Russian Kale and fall planted Cabbage overwinter and provide food just before spring begins.
The Russian Kale (pictured below) in my winter garden was not planted soon enough to get very large before winter set in. I did get an occasional few leaves every week to mix into salads.
In April it seemed to instantly grow to to five feet and bloom. I’ve picked bowls of leaves from this plant and within days it replenishes itself.
Just the other day I found 3 volunteer seedlings in various spots. If they like where they are they’ll get not only tall (about 3 to 4 feet before bloom) but make a huge mound of leaves (can be 3 feet in circumference) that would seemingly feed an army.
Although I’ll save the Russian Kale seed on occasion I mainly let it reseed. As with other plants, when it’s finished it’s used to help soil fertility.
Last fall I enjoyed some nice cabbage. But I put in several plants too late for them to make a head before the cold set in. In spite of not having any protection except a bit of straw, they survived to make small heads by the first part of April.
When cabbage is finished I usually break or cut it up and put under the straw. This is done so as not to attract pests that like cabbage. This method may not be 100% effective all the time. But in my garden, so far so good.
Mache came up with fall planted Lettuce
Lettuce that is under cover in severe cold overwinters well into spring. It’ll send up a stalk and set seed just about the time spring plantings are large enough to pick.
3 Beds Transitioned
In the picture below three beds have been transitioned to onion seedlings.
“Finished” compost (that which is totally decayed) doesn’t offer the soil life anything to feed on. Plant residue decaying in your garden is more beneficial.
Long before chemicals, farmers used their crop residue to help return fertility to the soil.
Plant residue is what adds energy to your soil. It’s the by-products of soil life breaking down organic materials that your plants will feed on. And as soil scientist Richard Parnes stated in his book, “It (the energy from organic residues) is required to maintain soil fertility and there is no substitute.“
Personal Note to Subscribers
I’ll write more short updates about the spring garden and most likely send in emails to “subscribers only’ rather than post them on TMG. One story that I can hardly wait to share with you is about a friendship that has developed between me and a little creature that shares my yard.
Always thinking of you when I’m in my garden!
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