Monday, April 2, 2012

Soilent Brown is Dirt, Man

Today I'm going to talk about soil and my strange fascination with a book I recently purchased.

First, the book.  Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, by Steve Solomon.  It's awesome.  I have spent far too many evenings reading it in bed. Yes, I read gardening books in bed. Also cookbooks. I like food porn, what can I say.

So, anyway, Steve-o's book starts off with how to amend your soil.  I was originally planning on adding lots of compost to our new backyard and calling it good, because that's what organic gardeners do, right? Steve laid out good reasons not to solely rely on compost, mostly having to do with low nutritional levels in animal manure out here (I will be adding horse manure to my yard, FREE courtesy of a good friend and her two horses), and also that most soil west of the Cascades is geologically similar and therefore lacking in certain nutrients. So he tells you to save your $$ and just make up some organic fertilizer to add in with the compost.

Now, before I go into that, I will say that I grew up in Tulare, California - an extremely fertile valley where all manner of agricultural food crops are grown.  I grew up with a yard that provided us with everything from strawberries to pomegranates to peaches....many, many fruits and vegetables that would just GROW without us needing to do a whole lot of work beyond digging a hole for the seeds and setting the irrigation timers (Central California in the 80s and 90s = water rationing). A blogger I unreasonably adore, FinnyKnits, says that she now tests her soil before the start of planting season and amends with what it needs. And I totally get it. It helps to be scientific about things if you want good results, eh? Except Finny lives in ... Calfornia.  And now that I'm at least one Zone cooler than when I lived in California or Maryland, I find things I like aren't as easy to grow due to temperature differences. I've had to adjust from late tomatoes to early tomatoes, swap out peaches for blueberries, and protect fruit trees from the cold snaps up here in Seattle. Wah, wah, wah. (Wa-Wa??)

So... I am taking a leap of unscientific faith in this Steve-o and denying my engineer instincts for a year.  I'm making his damn fertilizer.

I headed off to the ever-funtastical Sky Nursery last Friday and bought the following:

- 1 x 25 lb bag of cottonseed meal: $30
- 1 x 20 lb bag of kelp meal: $50
- 1 x 50 lb bag of rock phosphate: $25(I keep wanting to sing "Rock Lobster" by the B-52s...)
- 1 x 40 lb bag of "soil sweet" lime: $9

I spent a total of $114 (plus 9.5% tax) for 130 lb of fertilizer goods.  The last three items will keep around for a long time, as they are minor components in the fertilizer mix. 

Steve's mix is as follows: 4 parts seed meal to 1/2 part phosphate, 1/2 part kelp meal, and 1/2 part lime. I ended up  making enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket.

I haven't spread any of it yet.  Steve reminds readers that spring is cool and iffy in the PNW, and that there is not much benefit to planting early.  An anecdote I remember up here is "Plant stuff on Mother's Day".


In other garden news: I got my junipers bushwhacked.  Observe:


...After. Glorious space.
Oh Sweet Jesus I am so happy this is taken care of. The bushwhackers are returning this Friday afternoon to grind out the stumps.  Incidentally, these ugly junipers were on both sides of our duplex, so I have double the room to replant. I think our tenants are really happy, though - now they get the full use of their front walkway (previous to removal, their junipers - even with copious trimming - were spilling over and forcing them over to one side).

See that strip of green grass behind the bushes? Daniel, me, and our friend Delphine all had the same idea: clumping bamboo as a screen! Or even Nandina shrubs (which look like bamboo without the bad side effects like, oh, cracking concrete and running out of control).

I've got a lot of fun shoveling ahead of me!

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