Tag Archives: gardening

Soil Workshop

Last Wednesday, we had an amazing soil workshop led by the lovely Jill Dalton. She works with LifeCycles, has worked on organic farms and went to UBC for agriculture, so she had plenty of knowledge to share with us. Now is the perfect time to learn about soil because it is time to prepare for the coming seasons. There are leaves everywhere to collect!

I have to apologize for not bringing a camera to the workshop. I did find some helpful images to help explain the information on the internet though. I also want to share the credit for this summary with Life Cycles, because I used some of the notes that Jill gave us to write this post.

Jill began by explaining the two ways to approach soil fertility. The chemical route feeds the plant directly with soluble fertilizers. The biological, or organic way, feeds the soil to let the soil organisms provide for the plant. Before you can begin to work with soil, you’ve gotta know what you are working with. There are three categories of soil type and structure:

Sand: fairly large particles that keep the soil open for air and water to pass through; they get warmer and drier earlier in the spring than other soil types.

Silt: medium sized particles, in between the characteristics of sand and clay.

Clay: very fine particles that hold water and provide a rich store of nutrients.

Right: Clay mixed with organic matter. Middle: Dream soil mix of sand, clay, silt and organic matter. Left: Sand and organic matter.Image from : http://georgiarox.com/plantproject/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Soil-types.jpg

Knowing your soil type is important because it determines drainage and the ability to take up nutrients. If you think about it, the more surface area, the more nutrients and water it can hold. With so many smaller particles, clay has a larger gross surface area. Sand on the other hand, doesn’t hold much water or nutrients and often results in desert like conditions. Soil type is also important in choosing which plants to grow, as some plants grow better in certain soils than others. Dream soil is made up of all three types of soil mixed with a fourth component: organic matter! Ideally, organic matter should not make up more than 10% of soil. Although compost feeds the good micro-organisms that help plants to grow, it also feeds the bad ones that can cause disease.

Preparing for the next growing season is important because it replenishes the nutrients and re-establishes soil structure. One way to do this is through planting cover crops. Bare soil gets compacted and loses nutrients from rain, plus cover crops add organic matter and nutrients when done right. Some of the many fantastic cover crops include clover (a natural mulch and nitrogen fixer) and rye (you can use the stalks as a cheaper alternative to straw).

If you already have a crop, mulching the soil helps to keep moisture in and acts as a cover to avoid compaction and nutrient wash-out. However, there are potential problems to mulching. It can become too wet and the decaying matter can become a breeding ground for slugs and other pests. Weeds can also be imported with mulching materials, especially in straw or grass clippings.

An idea of what lasagna gardening layers looks like. Image from: http://pinterest.com/pin/126452702008193235/

If you do not have good soil to work with, you can create it through lasagna gardening (otherwise known as sheet mulching). It is good not to dig into your soil unless you need to; disturbing the soil causes compaction and nutrient loss when it gets wet. It is called lasagna gardening because it is made up of many layers. The bottom layer, or your existing surface, is covered in cardboard. Make sure that you overlap the pieces of carboard to ensure that the weeds cannot get through. For the next four layers, alternate between a straw/leaves and compost/manure. The greens (nitrogen from your compost) and browns (carbon from the leaves, straw and cardboard) will mix together over time to create a nutrient rich, fluffy soil that is ideal for growing plants. The cardboard takes longer to decompose, keeping the weeds out during the competitive stage of plant growth.

It is also good to know a bit about the chemical make-up of soil, so that you can diagnose problems. The three main nutrients include:

N- Nitrogen facilitates plant growth, especially in the leaves. If there is a nitrogen deficiency, some signs might include stunted growth or yellowing leaves. To fix this, you can add manure, alfalfa pellets or blood meal.

P- Phosphorus helps with plant maturation. If leaves seem more reddish-purple than normal, you can add rock phosphate or bone meal to re-establish the right level of nutrients.

K- Potassium is in charge of cell division, the processing of sugars and root development. Potassium deficiency is difficult to identify, but bronze or brown spots can be a good hint. Add Sulphate of potash or Sulpo-mag to help make the soil healthy again.

The last thing Jill told us about was pH. Unless there is a mystery reason why your garden is dying, it is not necessary to know much about pH. 6.2 to 6.8 is the optimal level for most plants, soil microbial life and bacteria that work with legumes to fix nitrogen, but it is nearly impossible to identify the pH of your garden without a soil test.

Soil Building workshop, Wed September 26th, 6-8 pm

Image by rcferdin, used under Creative Commons license

A productive garden starts with healthy soil.  Learn how to build your soil naturally (and cheaply!) to increase your food yields as well as the nutrition of the veggies you’re growing.

Topics covered will include:  an overview of organic soil building strategies, physical analysis (soil types and structures), organic matter, composting basics, soil nutrients and pH, sheet mulching (aka lasagna gardening) and green manures.  The wonderful Jill Dalton of Lifecycles will be teaching, and if you’ve ever had the pleasure of learning from her, you’ll know that her workshops are packed with information but also extremely fun and encouraging/empowering.   Don’t miss this event!

Email slugs.coordinator@gmail.com to register

Location:  The straw bale building at the Compost Education Centre, 1216 North Park St, Victoria, BC

Suggested donation:  $5-10 (no one turned away)

Seasonal Recipe Round-Up: Zucchini Edition

Photo by clayirving, used under Creative Commons license

At this point, it’s pretty much a dusty old cliche that every gardener is frantically trying to unload squash on friends and neighbours at this time of the year.  However, some stereotypes exist for a reason, and this is one of them!  If your zucchinis are busting out of the garden faster than you can eat them, if you’ve started resorting to leaving baskets of zucchini on strangers doorsteps, or if you’ve ever played a rollicking game of summer squash baseball (the zucchinis are bats and the overgrown pattypans are the balls, in case you were wondering), this recipe round-up should help you out!  Continue reading

Haultain Common: The Season in Photos

Photo by Mike Large

As you may know, SLUGS has been partnering with the Haultain Common for 2012 and holding monthly workshops/work parties at the Common.  We’re stoked to have the chance to work with the Commoners because it gives us a chance to put all our gardening learning into practice while helping to build an amazing community food resource.

We’ve been snapping photos when we have a chance throughout the year, and I wanted to put them together in one place so you could see the evolution of what we’ve been working on.  From a dormant winter garden on a drafty February afternoon to a riotous food forest in the August heat, here is the season at the Common! Continue reading

Haultain Common Tour and Work Party, Monday August 13th, 7-9 pm

Another great opportunity to tour this amazing community boulevard garden and food resource and lend a hand with a few tasks here and there.

The Common-ers and youth from the SLUGS program have been spending the season planning, building, weeding and harvesting at this rad communal garden space!  From a mostly bare boulevard in February to the bountiful food forest that exists now, it’s been a lot of work, but with really satisfying (and delicious) results.

Stop by on Monday August 13th to tour the Common, learn more about permaculture food forests and boulevard gardens, and help us do a bit of weeding.  We’ll be meeting at 7pm — the day’s heat will have mellowed by then, but we’ll still have plenty of light to work and talk and learn by.  Hope to see you there!

Location:  The Haultain Common, 1420 Haultain (at Asquith)

Cost:  free!

Urban Homesteading Book Reviews

I tend to spend a lot of time reading about urban agriculture projects (both because I have a rad job that allows me to do so and because I am a nerd who would do so anyway) and recommending resources to folks looking to get started on an apartment balcony garden or amp up their sustainable urban ways.  I’ve put together reviews of four urban homesteading books I’ve read recently (all of which are available at the Victoria Public Library), and would love to hear about what books or online resources you’ve read and enjoyed as well. Continue reading

Seasonal Recipe Roundup: Cherries!

Photo by Wonderlane, used under Creative Commons license

As I type this, there is a huge bucket of cherries from one of the trees on-site here at the Compost Ed Centre sitting on the office floor.  We are all gorging ourselves on cherries, but I can still see tons more hanging off the branches of the tree outside the window.  I’m not telling you this to boast (honest!), but to mention that cherry season is here, and if you’re not taking advantage of it, I highly recommend doing so as soon as possible!  In case you get sick of just gobbling them down fresh (it seems impossible at first, I know, but I’m getting close to my saturation point and it’s only been two days), I’ve put together a seasonal recipe round-up with some rad and unusual looking cherry recipes.  You won’t find any jams or pies or cobblers, but there are some shrubs, pickles, and fruit leathers that look pretty damn fine. Continue reading