Soil Health and Cover Crop Class – September 11, 2013

Soil Health/Cover Crops will be presented by Thomas Steger from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service on Wednesday, September 11 at 7:00 P.M. in the Red Wing High School-Courtyard Cafe.  The class will cover soil health including discussions on “soil critters”, recognizing healthy soil and the long-term ramifications of poor soil health.  Tom will also discuss the use of cover crops, mulch and plant diversity and how they can benefit soil health.  Soil glomalin effects on soil aggregation as well as soil stability and water infiltration will be demonstrated.

This class is sponsored by Goodhue County Extension Master Gardeners and Red Wing Community Education.  The cost is $5.  To register,  call Red Wing Community Schools at 385-4565.

The Soil is Alive!

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by Karen O’Rourke, Goodhue County Extension Master Gardener
“A bare plowed field is hungry, thirsty and running a fever.”  That statement sure caught my attention when I read the handout called “Soil Health/Soil Quality”  by Peter Hartman, NRCS Soil Scientist  – Rochester, Minnesota.  A few other things to consider:
  • There are 9 billion living organisms in just a tablespoon of soil.
  • Keep soil covered with living plants or plant residues to avoid erosion.
  • Minimize disturbance of the soil to limit weed seeds.
  • Maximize diversity of plants in rotation, using plants from many different groupings such as flowers, herbs, vegetables, ground covers for visual interest and to limit disease that can spread in monocultures.
  • Keep living roots in the soil to hold the soil in place as much as possible.  Consider cover crops off-season.
“Tillage is bad for the soil, tillage plants weed seeds” notes Hartman.  Community gardeners, lets keep the soil food web working!  Ruth’s Stouts book:  Gardening Without Work: for the Aging, the Busy, and the Indolent is a great reference for no till gardening and can be found at the Red Wing Public Library.  If you would like to see these methods in action, stop by the demonstration plots at Spring Creek Community Garden or email me at korourke3348@gmail.com .
Do you want to learn more about soil?  Check out the Soil Primer by the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Earth Day Gardening Tips

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You know the saying: “think globally, act locally”.  Honoring the earth can be as simple as being greener in your garden.

As gardeners we get to celebrate Earth Day all year.  As Master Gardeners and educators we are fortunate to have opportunities to multiply that appreciation.

I came across an article by Jennifer Davit (Director of the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park) on Celebrating Earth Day by Sharing Gardening Tips  in the Chicago Sun Tribune.  Her six suggestions are as applicable for Goodhue County as they are to Millennium Park in downtown Chicago:

  • Replace annuals with perennials. There are many beautiful perennials that are native to the bluffs and hardwood forests of Goodhue County that can be integrated into  gardens and require little water and no fertilizer.
  • Don’t overfertilize. Perennials in our garden are chosen for their durability and successful growth over time. They typically don’t need supplemental nutrients through conventional fertilizers — some will actually perform poorer if they are fertilized, especially with liquid formulations. Only fertilize if the plant is showing signs of nutrient deficiencies.
  • Think beyond color: When choosing perennial plants and grasses, consider textures, movement, sound and scents. For example, the combinations of prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) and Eastern bee balm (Monarda bradburiana) provide excellent textural diversity throughout the year.
  • Attract wildlife. Choose plants, such as calamint, salvias and native milkweeds that provide nectar and pollen to attract and feed wildlife. Many beautiful gardens from Millennium Park in Chicago IL to our own Discovery Garden in Red Wing MN do not use chemicals and create habitat for all to enjoy.
  • Say no to insecticides. By tolerating a little plant damage, you will help welcome a healthy insect population to your garden. You’ll be amazed at the number of dragonflies that come to eat your mosquitoes, the number of bees that will collect pollen and nectar from your plants, and the variety of butterflies that will make your garden their home.
  • Don’t forget winter: Instead of cutting back perennials in fall, leave them up through winter and cut them back in late winter, before early spring bulbs start to grow. This will enable you to enjoy your garden despite the cold and provide a home for wildlife year-round.

We can do that!

I am sure Karen would add a seventh bullet promoting  no till gardening  to reduce weeds and protect soil.  We can do that too!

Soil Tests

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It all starts with the soil, so getting to know yours is an important first step.

The University of Minnesota Soil Lab will give you recommendations to make your lawn or garden more productive for just $17. Download the form at http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/files/2012/08/LawnGardenInfoSheet.doc and follow the instructions. You simply collect five trowels of soil from throughout your lawn or garden, mix it together and mail one pint of your sample to the University of Minnesota Soils Lab with the form and a check.

Two or three weeks later you will receive a summary of your soil texture, percent organic matter, pH, nutrients and suggested fertilization needs. With this information you are on your way to improving your garden soil.