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Friday, Nov 21, 2014
South Shore News

Make amending the soil a lifetime habit


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Most of the amendments for improving any soil are close at hand and free, so it’s easy to make a habit of recycling all grass clippings, leaves and pine needles. You can use them for a compost pile or for mulch around trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables.

You can also use the non-woody parts that you prune from your shrubs and even “good” weeds, those pulled before they go to seed. “Bad” weeds are those that are seedy or invasive like many of the vines.

This approach solves two problems at the same time – soil improvement and landfill overflow.

For many decades now we’ve always had a bucket on the sink to collect kitchen waste: any inedible parts of fruits and veggies, water poured off cooked vegetables, cooking failures and such. The only things we don’t add are bones, meat and soap. If a little bit does get in, don’t worry. When we had pigs we gave the kitchen waste to them, though the chickens followed that bucket and tried to get their share.

Now we put it on the compost pile or into the worm bins. But you don’t have to have either. You can empty the bucket at the feet of whatever plant you want to grow the most. If the sight of the garbage bothers you, just cover it with a layer of soil, grass clippings or leaves. In two weeks if you go back to that spot and dig with your trowel, you’ll find better soil.

When I worked with chunks of clay in Ohio, I dreamed about moving somewhere with rich soil where every plant would grow perfectly. We moved to Iowa and the soil was wonderful, but by then I had already formed the habit of recycling all of the aforementioned items in the soil, so I just continued to do so.

When we moved to Florida I had already read that the soil was very poor, but it still was a shock to find it much like what we put in our sandbox in Iowa. Since then I’ve learned that it could be worse. Parts of South Florida have soil that is so rock hard an auger must be used to dig holes for planting trees or shrubs. When Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead, many of the trees popped loose like corks out of bottles.

After we moved to Florida, I didn’t see a worm for a year. But if you keep putting organic matter – anything that will rot – on or in the soil, the worms will come, and they are great helpers in soil improvement.

Until you get your own compost, you can buy it by the bag or by the truckload. Use this first in the planting holes when you plant new plants.

I have a method for using the earthworms to make the quickest, cleanest, compost you’ll ever get and it costs nothing. Email me and I’ll send you the instructions.

As you improve your soil, it will hold more water and nutrients around the plant roots and will soon have not only more worms but many beneficial microorganisms working underground to help your plants make the most of any feed you give them.

Today’s pick is the pineapple sage, Salvia elegans, a herb with edible leaves and flowers and the fragrance and taste of pineapple. It’s easy to grow and blooms most of the time with small red blooms that look much like the native tropical sage. Rub the leaves, and you’ll notice the difference. It takes full sun gladly but does okay in partial shade, though it doesn’t bloom as much and needs a bit of pruning to keep it compact. It’s easy to root from cuttings and comes through both summers and most winters well. It also attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. I found a recipe for Pineapple Sage Pound Cake. Email me if you want it.

Now’s the time... to either slow down your gardening or work mostly early in the day. My son stops until fall, but I keep chugging along and am glad to do it. But I work in the shade, as needed. Be sure to drink plenty of water, protect yourself from mosquitoes and stop before the fun or the energy runs out. I know gardeners, even older ones, who can work all day. I never could, but I can hardly spend a day without working some in the garden. It’s great therapy.

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at monicabrandies@yahoo.com. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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