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Posts Tagged ‘organic gardening’

Gardeners often spend a fortune on fertilizers during the season to keep plants healthy and well fed. Yet some of us leave the soil unattended in the winter and early spring only to start the cycle all over again.

Crimson Clover patch

Plant cover crops like clover to put nitrogen back in your soil!

A few years back, I became a fan of cover crops to add nitrogen and to keep soils active and healthy during the normally “fallow” season. (Note that I live in an area of California where our growing season is almost year-round. However, there are certain green manures, such as hairy vetch and rye, that are suitable for colder climates, provided they are planted early enough before the winter.) As I was spreading some clover I got to thinking about the cost of cover crops vs fertilizers. The numbers shocked me.

Comparison of fertilizers vs cover crops:

Fertilizer Price Nitrogen Extra Info Price/lb N
Berseem Clover $8/lb seed 125 lb nitrogen/acre 30 lb/acre $1.92/lb
Banner Fava $6/lb seed 150 lb nitrogen/acre 200 lb/acre $8.00/lb
Common Vetch $8/lb seed 110 lb nitrogen/acre 90 lb/acre $6,54/lb
Blood Meal $2/lb 12% none $16.67/lb

Table disclaimer: these figures were taken from a variety of sources that are all subject to some scrutiny. Territorial Seed Company publishes information on cover crops in their catalogs and how much you end up paying for any of the items can vary drastically and how much REAL nitrogen you get from a crop can also vary significantly.

That said, unless your Clover does VERY poorly, you are going to get better results since it is 20 times less expensive with conservative numbers. We purchased Crimson Clover for $1.5 /lb by purchasing 10lbs. Plug in those numbers and we could be paying $0.36/lb of nitrogen.

One important thing to note is that you should choose your cover crops carefully. According to this article in Organic Gardening, some cover crops like rye are allelopathic, meaning that they suppress the growth of neighboring plants. And it’s also important to wait 2-3 wks after turning under your cover crop to make sure that the nitrogen will be available for your veggies.

And now for the punch line: Now I understand the lyrics to “Crimson and Clover”: you are supposed to plant it OVER and OVER! Who woudda known Joan Jett was a gardener! ūüėČ

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Ahhh, summer! ¬†You’ve probably harvested several lbs. or meals of your favorite tomatoes, lettuces, beans, potatoes, and those lovely cole crops – broccoli, cabbage, radishes, chard! ¬†The garden even looks glorious basking in that August sun. ¬†But wait, there’s warfare going on in this idyllic scene. ¬†WAR, you say?

Oh yes, just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. ¬†The soil-bearing fungi are whetting their appetite to get those sugars from the leaves or roots and decompose the plant, but even more obvious are those critters you DON’T but CAN see … ONCE YOU TURN OVER THE LEAVES!

Check what's going on under the leaves.

Check what's going on under the leaves.

Yes, you’ve worked on the preparation, the maintenance, weeding, etc., but do not rest on your laurels as veg garden work is not complete till it reaches your mouth! ¬†And that is what many new gardeners neglect: ¬†touching the leaves, turning them over, trying to ID what critters are munching on THEIR dinner, and what they’re going to do about them.

Cabbage worms devastating broccoli leaf!

Cabbage caterpillars (not loopers) devastating broccoli leaf; aphid on right.

So hear’s an example of Roy looking under the leaves of the Calypso bean plant. ¬†Hm, not snails. ¬†Probably a caterpillar. ¬†He looks for the culprit. ¬†Gets out a book (see below) for ID. ¬†Reads prognosis and treatment.

Moves on to the next plant. Broccoli. Ewww, found the critters. Caterpillar stage chewing up the leaves. A sole aphid in the corner. Roy’s thinking, maybe BT will take care of that, insecticidal soap for aphid or lacewing treatment.

To help you ID and do something about these garden pests, here’s a suggested list of references for the veggie garden:

And if all fails, just send us a tweet with photo on Twitter and we’ll try to help you ID your pest!

P.S. ¬†Roy’s solution to the cabbage caterpillars is smushing them and applying BT tonight before the infestation gets worse.

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