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Oklahoma Outside


Garden Magic


Compost, manure and mulch make magic in the garden


A heaping handful of fi nished compost is ready for the garden. Photo by Dee Nash


By Dee Nash T


here’s a lot of information on garden shows and online about magi- cal concoctions to create a better garden. You’re told you’ll get more tomatoes! Better roses! And, the list goes on. This information is a lot like weight loss ads, and works just about as well.


My suggestion is to ignore most of this propaganda. Some work, but it’s all about science, not magic. If you’re interested in homemade garden remedies, I suggest reading “The Truth About Garden Remedies: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why” by Jeff Gillman. There are no magic spells out there, but there is garden magic to be made. In fact, magic is what gardening is all about. Watching a plant grow to maturity and then seeing a butterfl y sip nectar from its blossoms is awe inspiring. Growing a tomato and eating a BLT is another bit of everyday magic. To determine what your soil needs, get a soil test from your local cooperative extension service or another testing lab. While you wait on your soil test, or because you’re in too big a hurry to get started—most of us are—there are two things you can do for your garden that will help your plants thrive.


✓ Use good quality compost. Make it yourself, or purchase it from a reputable nursery; and


✓ Mulch with organic matter. By organic, I mean a material that breaks down and becomes part of the soil.


Good soil gives magical results At its most basic level, gardening is about building good soil. Soil isn’t an


inert medium where you plunk plants and seeds. It’s a living ecosystem full of creatures that are benefi cial, neutral or harmful to your plants. Scientists have said this for years, but just recently, lay people are considering information about good and bad bacteria along with other soil organisms. Some soil organisms have a benefi cial or symbiotic relationship with plants.


Two of these are rhizobia and mycorrhizae. Rhizobia fi xate nitrogen through a relationship with the root nodules of legumes like peas and beans. Inoculants


22 WWW.OK-LIVING.COOP


containing rhizobia are sold to mix with these seeds at planting time to increase yield. Mycorrhizae have a symbiotic and usually benefi cial relationship with the roots of plants. They can help a plant better withstand drought and take up nitrogen more effi ciently. The next time you’re in the nursery check out the organic fertilizers. The jury is still out on whether prepackaged good bacteria is what’s needed for the soil in your particular garden, but manufacturers have formulated them anyway. By making your own compost, and using mulch and animal manure, your soil will produce its own good bacteria and fungi. If you have these, the protozoa, nematodes and arthropods like millipedes and sow bugs will come. So will those great land movers, the earthworms. A garden with earthworms is a happy one. Compost is a garden’s building block to better health. Because soil organisms feed upon organic matter, compost is essential to the garden, and needs to be replenished each season. It is diminished by climate conditions—including harsh sun—and the very creatures that make soil their home.


Why make compost?


✓ It helps soil retain water while also benefi tting good drainage. Compost changes soil’s structure and feeds creatures within the soil food web. ✓ Compost removes organic kitchen waste like peelings, eggshells, coffee


grounds and tea leaves that would normally go into landfi lls. ✓ Compost eliminates the need for bagging leaves and grass clippings for


pickup at the curb. Yard waste accounts for 24 percent of all garbage in landfi lls per year according to the U.S. Composting Council. ✓ Composted waste materials provide your garden and lawn with low-level nutrients, lessening the need for fertilizers. ✓ Compost doesn’t replace organic fertilizer, but it does make it easier for


plants to take up nitrogen. Earthworms produce nitrogen from their casts (poop) and through decomposition. Earthworm castings have nitrogen that is easily utilized by plants.


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