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Posts Tagged ‘compost’

It’s here, and it’s in full swing. The past month has been kind of like that song on the radio, “you’re hot and you’re cold”. We went from some early March days in shirtsleeves to a couple of weeks of cold-n-rainy, then some nice daytimes with back down the mid-40′s at night. This weekend it’s supposed to get into the mid-80′s. My lettuce is CONFUSED, I tell ya.

Things I’ve been doing, some of which may be things to think about doing in your garden:

Greens, greens, greens!

  • Harvest the first crop of spinach, Catalina Baby, (outer leaves only), and hope I didn’t take too much
  • Plant more spinach, this time a heat-tolerant variety, Oriental Giant (a spinach-alike, really) and a quick to mature type, Nobel 45-day.
  • Harvest rainbow chard, cutting it all way back to some inner leaves. No leaf miners (yet?) this year, for which I’m grateful.

Peas on Earth, Goodwill to Munch!

  • Check on your peas every couple of days– they may need a boost grabbing onto their trellising. I find myself patiently helping them grab the trellis instead of throttling each other. Hmm, sounds like kids!
  • Pick the first few pea stragglers and eat them as snap peas, whether they are conventional or snap peas. Don’t let your pea plant produce full-grown seeds and then think it is done for the season.
  • Dress their roots with a good layer of compost. In addition to keeping the soil moist, this helps keep it cool. Peas with cool feet will produce longer and be less prone to mildew.
  • Now that the weather is getting hotter, make sure that you don’t spray the pea vines themselves when watering if you can help it, and when you water, do so with plenty of time to dry out before the heat of the day. Once mildew takes hold, it can spread pretty quick.

Strawberry Fields (and Containers) Forever

  • Strawberries are flowering now; have you fertilized them since tucking them in for fall? This is a really good time. If you wait until the first crop of berries is ready, they may need a long break to absorb nutrients before putting out lots of replacement flowers.
  • Mine are everbearing, which produce a berry here and there all summer, but if yours are June-bearing, it’s doubly important to fertilize as soon as they start greening up and forming flower buds. You’re only getting the one shot with the berry crop!
  • Before you fertilize, especially if you’re using compost, carefully pull out all the winter-killed foliage. You don’t want rotting vegetation under that compost– the crowns need to breathe and get good air circulation. This will help prevent fungus problems.
  • Be careful what you are pulling on, and either snip out the old foliage at the stem, or grab only a stem or two at a time and give a quick sharp yank. It’s too easy to pull out the crowns!
  • If your strawberries are in a container, like mine, check the crowns. The soil levels drop as organic matter is used up, and you may have little strawberry castles raised up 2 or 3 inches above the soil. Fill in with enriched potting soil, or regular potting soil mixed 50% with compost. Be careful not to cover the crowns themselves– err on the side of caution, because if you cover them, you are very very likely to have fungus or mildew problems.
  • Container strawberries are sensitive to minerals, too– be sure to sprinkle some greensand and bone meal or eggshell into your containers annually. Now is fine, it’s not too late at all.

Gracious, where did the time go? I guess I’ve been a bit busy in the garden lately. We haven’t even talked about the runner bean seedlings, the tomatoes and peppers, and the squashes. Next time!

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Most commercial strawberry growers rely on heavy applications of methyl bromide or similar fumigants to combat black root rot, an endemic problem for strawberries. New agricultural research shows that growing strawberries in compost medium can substitute for soil fumigation. Fumigants, in addition to their toxicity and negative effects on the soil ecosystem, are increasingly expensive. Many small-scale growers cannot afford fumigants, yet the poorer yields of associated with black root make going without it unaffordable as well.

Mesh tube bags, sold commercially under a variety of names, were filled with compost and set up with drip irrigation. The strawberry plants were set directly into the compost tubes, and did not pick up the black root from the infected soil. Yields were increased a whopping 16 to 32 times!

Photo courtesy of USDA

In a lovely example of synergy, not only does this represent a more natural and affordable method for strawberry culture, the method frees growers from the ubiquitous use of black plastic. Acres and acres of black plastic are used to mulch between rows in large-scale operations. The tube bags, sometimes called “socks” are available in a wide variety of materials, including natural materials such as cotton or burlap, and biodegradeable plastic meshes.


In the photo above, I’ve taken a wide shallow planter and used some landscape edging to add a second tier to it. Making a multi-level strawberry planter with compost in mesh tubes would be even easier. I could try adding strawberry plants in a compost mesh tube as a raised edging on my planter beds, or around the base of the beds on top of the chip mulch I use to suppress weeds. I’ll have to try that!

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