Sunday, 6 November 2011

Putting the garden to bed: cultivating healthy soil

This past Thursday the garden hosted our second seasonal workshop in the Field School series.   This one focused on the idea of becoming "soil farmers" through the planting of cover crops, organic composting and mulching.  As we acknowledge that gardens represent cycles and systems we come to understand that  although we are approaching the 'end' of this season's harvest, we are simultaneously planning for next spring's planting.

The workshop began with a discussion on healthy soils: emphasizing a balanced makeup of 24% air, 25% water, 45% minerals, 3-5% organic matter, and 1% living organisms.  Fertile garden soil should have the texture of couscous- feeling light and fluffy (with air spaces for roots to penetrate), and be able to retain and drain water.  It is important to note that organic gardening practices seek to cultivate and maintain a diversity of beneficial bacteria, fungi and insects within the soil food web.

Participants explored the garden to identify plants that would overwinter (such as kale) and those annuals that can be pulled and used as green mulch or compost.

Garden beds were weeded and aerated, in preparation for planting garlic.

Hard-neck and soft-neck varieties of garlic are planted in the late fall and harvested the following August.

Eric gave us a comprehensive demonstration on composting, reinforcing the need to balance carbon and nitrogen inputs (through woody & green materials) and generate heat to facilitate the decomposition process.  It is important to note that healthy compost should not smell bad (indicating anaerobic bacteria), but instead should have a sweet, earthy smell (indicating appropriate amounts of oxygen and the presence of beneficial bacteria).  We have a three-bin system which enables us to move compost through three different stages of decomposition and incorporate kitchen scraps from the Agora Cafe.

Participants also cleared garden beds of summer radishes, reserving the greens for green mulching which was finished with a thick blanket of dried leaves from across campus.

This rich mulch prevents weeds, maintains soil moisture, and helps to retain existing nutrients that would otherwise be leached during the rainy season.  The leaves will break down over the winter and be incorporated as organic matter prior to planting in the spring.

Thanks to everyone who made these first few workshops a success!  We look forward to tomorrow's Apple Preserving Workshop as the final workshop for 2011.  We are busy planning future learning opportunities starting in January.  Stay tuned!

No comments:

Post a Comment