Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Healthy soil means healthy plants and healthy food.

To qualify this, the optimal health and nutrition comes from organically grown food. However there is not much of this around unless you have an organic farm or shop nearby, or grow it yourself.

My “salad days” are here again in the tropical north,
albeit for only a short period, from the end of the Wet Season in April to September. However, on our Atherton Tableland, their growing season is much longer and potato growers can grow three crops a year. Nevertheless, I make the best of our short time. This is the time when I can enjoy tasty organically grown vegetables, and tropical fruits that have been grown without chemical fertiliser or poisonous spray.
 As a youngster and with a farming background I learnt a lot from my paternal grandfather, Franz, about vegetable growing, which was his hobby.  He was my role model. But as the years went by in Australia I have never stopped learning  - it is in my genes to always ask how or why. Life for me is a constant learning cycle till the day I die. I also inherited grandfather’s great sense of humour. I can still vividly remember grandfather saying to me: “Don’t go in the garden.  It is dangerous!” When I asked why, he would say: “The asparagus are shooting!”

Over the years I have given away “bucket loads” of veggies to appreciative family and friends. I always grow more than I need, and I derive pleasure from that. Gardening and growing things is therapeutic for me. My reward for giving  the spare produce away  is my pleasure  in giving, and seeing smiling faces. I remember one neighbour whose husband was of Italian extraction and he loved tomatoes, but his yard was too shaded and you need sun to grow veggies. I called out over the fence, and the wife came out. I said that I had a dozen tomatoes for her husband. She looked at them and, instead saying, "Thank you," she said, “Why do you grow so many and then give them away?” Well, there are funny people in this world who do not know that you shouldn’t look a gift horse in mouth.

My tomatoes taste like they should, and taste like the ones we grew in our garden in Germany. The tomatoes you buy from our supermarkets are absolutely tasteless, and have a tough skin. The same goes with my veggies. We never know how they were produced and what chemical sprays and fertiliser were used. We know that they are picked unripe and then go through irradiation. Grow them organically in your backyard, if you have one, or alternatively containers is another option, and the reward of eating healthy veggies is great.

People say to me, “I tried to grow this and that, but nothing was growing well and the plants look yellow, but the soil looks good.” It is of course what is in the soil that matters - not how it looks. It is like a good looking apple, yet it can be rotten inside. “Why does your veggie garden look so lush and healthy?” they want to know.  My answer is always, “Healthy soil with organic fertilizer and good compost, which I constantly produce, has a lot to do with it.”  My soil is a difficult one; it is sandy and contains silicon.  This means the silicon hinders water penetration. So, compost and fibrous matter is very important. This soil has to be kept moist at all times, if it has dried out it is a slow process to get it moist again. It is akin to having oil in the soil - you see puddles of water on top of the soil not going in. Perhaps the following my help a few wannabe veggie growers to succeed.

As I said before, it is important what is in the soil and not how it looks. Magnesium deficiency in soil can be a reason for bad results. Magnesium in the soil helps the plants to get the benefit of the nutrients in the soil. There are gadgets available to test the soil to see whether it is acidic or has the right alkaline value.

To get an accurate reading of any deficiency, the soil can be tested, but in the case of magnesium, the results are quite variable. Magnesium content can deteriorate quickly, especially during rain or watering. Magnesium is quite water-soluble and gets leached to the lower layers of the soil easily. It is brought back up by tree roots. It is therefore important to return the falling leaves to the topsoil or use them in the compost.

Magnesium shortage is a real problem in most parts of the world.
It is caused when we water or irrigate instead of growing what is natural for the climatic conditions. It causes a serious calcium metabolism problem in people and animals, because calcium cannot be used without magnesium.

Extreme magnesium deficiency is recognized by pale green leaves and by blossom and fruit rot, but don't wait for that.
Sprinkle dolomite or Epsom salts on the soil from time to time, or add a little Epsom salts to the water. Using a little frequently is better than using a lot once, because the excess just gets leached. There is a difference between lime and dolomite - the latter contains magnesium.

Epsom salts recipe:
Dissolve 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts in 1 gal. of water. For healthy nightshade plants (tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants) water just as flowering starts. Or use this mixture as a foliage spray in the garden and on house plants.

Most soils have pH values between 3.5 and 10.
In higher rainfall areas the natural pH of soils typically ranges from 5 to 7, while in drier areas the range is 6.5 to 9. Soils can be classified according to their pH value: 6.5 to 7.5—neutral; over 7.5—alkaline ;  less than 6.5—acidic ;  and soils with pH less than 5.5 are considered strongly acidic.

An accurate soil test will indicate your soil's pH level, and will specify the amount of lime or Sulphur that is needed to bring it up or down to the appropriate level. A pH of 6.5 is just about right for most home gardens, since most plants thrive in the 6.0 to 7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral) range. Some plants (blueberries, azaleas) prefer more strongly acidic soil, while a few (ferns, asparagus) do best in soil that is neutral to slightly alkaline. Acidic (sour) soil is counteracted by applying finely ground limestone, and alkaline (sweet) soil is treated with gypsum (calcium sulphate) or ground sulphur.

And here is a gardening trick from me for growing carrots. Carrot seeds are slow to germinate and weed grows among them much quicker, and when you pull them out the very small carrot seedlings come out with the weeds. So, I put radish seeds with them.  They germinate quickly and are ready to harvest in about three weeks. With the radish gone and the row full of weeds, just spray them with kerosene which kills the weeds, but has no effect on the small carrots.
Source of some of the content and more interesting information.


Dulc. said...

Wonderful tips Werner. Thank you. You have always had the most amazing garden. Love the endive that you gave to me. It is my favorite!. I only wish our weather would allow us to garden like this all year!

Young Mother said...

I’m one of those „wannabe“backyard veggie growers, but with limited success. Your posting is very, very helpful to me. Thank you very much for this excellent and informative posting.

Alan Smith said...

We just moved in a new house in country NSW with a big backyard and I want to grow my own veggies. I grew up in Sydney and I’m a total novice in growing anything. This posting is absolutely excellent for me and will get me on the right path to become a veggie grower in my backyard. Thank you so much this.

George Mansford said...

Werner, I very much enjoy your articles. Thank you!
Keep going with your very active and productive life
All the best, cobber

Sandy said...

Great article! Nice focus on magnesium. I like your sense of humor too.

Anthony G. said...

Wow! Werner I am also a “wannabe” and want to be a “BE” this posting will help me no end to grow my own veggies. Thank you!

Sharon said...

I have just read your blog on healthy soil. I think it will be very helpful as Robin and I have started our own veggie patch. However, we do not expect to be as masterful as you are just yet. We have planted bean and pea seeds,some tomatoes,a capsicum plant and some silver beet seeds and a couple of strawberries. Let's hope something grows! We used to be reasonable gardeners in South Australia, but are finding the different climate a challenge.