Monday, May 21, 2012

Year Three Begins for the Redneck Garden

I finally got around to planting & realized this is the 3rd summer of Redneck Gardening. Same buckets, same small yard, but a few lessons learned along the way. 

I started with heavy soil, much like the native clay soil of the region. It seemed like a good concept; if I had a bigger yard & was planting in the ground, this would be the soil type, so why not in containers? It turns out that one of the cool things about container gardening is that you CAN use better soil. DOH! Most folks aren't going to remove a foot of soil over their whole garden, install drainage & then put in a foot of high-dollar soil, so they make due with what they have, amend as best they can and garden away. Folks with money might build raised beds & bring in an amended soil from the neighborhood garden center, but even that is a crap shoot. Rock yard garden centers typically use whatever dirt they can get for free or cheap & the cheapest amendment they can get their hands on. This means the dirt likely came from a construction site & you can guess what may or may not be in it. Organic matter may be a commercially produced greenwaste compost or something like stable shavings, mushroom compost (which is typically sterilized, meaning it has zero beneficial biology), uncomposted manure or tree waste, and the list of possibilities goes on & on. As nice as those folks are, don't let them convince you that this is really the "Premium Planter Mix" the sign over the bin claims.

In containers, it's a whole different game! For one, if you are buying soil, you need a LOT LESS, so spring for the good stuff. No, that does not include anything with the Miracle Grow label on it. Read the label, folks. Make sure you know what you are getting. Factoid: labeling is very strict in places like California & the manufacturer HAS to be sure to include everything that goes in the bag. Unfortunately, since many of the big brands are manufactured & marketed in many different areas, the ingredient list not only includes what IS in the bag, but anything that might ever be in the bag. Again, you never know for sure what is really in the bag, or in what proportions. My best advice if you go the bagged soil route; by a regional product, something made close to where you are, preferably organic. Mixes with coconut fiber (coir) will hold more water than those with peat & will rehydrate better. Try to buy a mix with sand in it if you can. Manufacturers don't like sand, because it adds weight & reduces the volume they can ship in a given truck. Consequently most retail bagged mixes contain no sand or soil at all. I'm also not a fan of perlite (expanded obsidian) or vermiculite (expanded pyrite). These are ultra lightweight fillers often used to reduce weight and improve drainage. They are not porous, so don't help with air & water movement in the soil, they are also environmentally challenging to produce. I prefer a mix with pumice or lava if you can find it.

I am more fortunate than most in this department. Dirt is my life. Well, livelihood actually. I don't have any formal education in soil science, but I do have 20 years of on the job training. Seems odd that it took me so long to start gardening. You would think it would've been a natural thing for me, but it just didn't click for me until more recently. Better late than never, I guess. I've enjoyed tinkering with the soil in my containers. They have great drainage, but don't dry out (I hand water twice each week), they are about 2/3 mineral (sand, soil, lava) & 1/3 organic matter (compost & worm castings). I don't add conventional fertilizers. Instead I add a little new compost and calcium sulfate (or gypsum) each year & everything seems to be doing great. I have also added a product called AXIS, which is calcined diatomaceous earth. AXIS has the perfect pore size for absorbing & releasing water when the plant needs it. The other benefit is that as moisture levels draw down & AXIS releases the water, it actually pulls air into the soil. This stuff is awesome! This combination seems to produce healthy plants with amazing root development.

Enough rambling about dirt, time for some pics!

The Front Porch
Poblano, Jalapeno & Habanero Peppers to Keep Things Lively.
Grafted Tomatoes are new to me this year. And apparently I don't cook with fennel often enough.
And now for the ornamentals:
The kniphofia on the left had four bloom spikes a couple weeks ago, now my other one is getting into the act.
Wifey loved these little happy faces.

Love the color these dianthus bring & they love this hot little planter by our entry.
Last one, another favorite from Annie's Annuals. This even survived being tented with the house!

No comments:

Post a Comment