Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

045 Feed Your Soil - The Cool Season Garden Edition

September 10, 2020 Fred Hoffman Season 1 Episode 45
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
045 Feed Your Soil - The Cool Season Garden Edition
Chapters
00:01:13
Feed Your Soil - The Cool Garden Season Edition
00:11:50
Smart Pots!
00:25:00
Quick Tip: Move up the 6-pack plants to larger containers when you get home.
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
045 Feed Your Soil - The Cool Season Garden Edition
Sep 10, 2020 Season 1 Episode 45
Fred Hoffman

Ripping out your summer garden to make room for the fall vegetable and flower garden? Before you stick one broccoli plant or calendula flower in that space, you need to improve your soil. It’s tired! How do you perk it up? One way: let a portion of your garden lay fallow for the summer, as is that bottom raised bed in the picture. But the soil is being replenished, courtesy of all the mulch on top of the bed.
Soils expert Steve Zien has faster acting tips for increasing the amount of microbial activity that’s taking place in your soil. And that’s one of the secrets to a bountiful harvest of fruits, vegetables and flowers.

We discuss the importance of testing your soil with a pH test kit and an N-P-K test kit, before making any amendments. To lower the pH, Zien suggests soybean meal, hydrolyzed fish fertilizer or earthworm castings. I like soil sulfur to lower the pH. To raise the pH, Zien suggests oyster shell lime or ground limestone.

Reasonably Priced Soil Testing:
University of Massachusetts/Amherst
Colorado State University

Use a soil probe or the Soil Sleuth to determine soil moisture before adding plants. Or, use my favorite moisture meter.

Zien says the best soil amendments include earthworm castings or good quality compost, which can be placed on top of the garden bed.

More information about Steve Zien's web presentation about soil health can be found here.

Don Shor of Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis, CA has a quick tip: don’t leave those plants you just purchased in 6-packs stay in that container for more than a day or two. Move them up to 4” pots and a good quality potting soil if you can’t get them in the ground right away.

It’s all on Episode 45 of Garden Basics with Farmer Fred: Feed Your Soil: the cool season garden edition, brought to you by Smart Pots. Visit smartpots.com/fred for more information and a discount on the original, lightweight, long-lasting fabric plant container, made in the USA.  And we will do it all in under 30 minutes.

More info including live links, product information, transcripts, and chapters available at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred.

Got a garden question? E-mail: fred@farmerfred.com or, leave a question at the Facebook, Twitter or Instagram locations below. 

All About Farmer Fred:
Farmer Fred website: http://farmerfred.com
Daily Garden tips and snark on Twitter
The Farmer Fred Rant! Blog
Facebook:  "Get Growing with Farmer Fred"
Instagram: farmerfredhoffman
Farmer Fred Garden Videos on YouTube




Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ripping out your summer garden to make room for the fall vegetable and flower garden? Before you stick one broccoli plant or calendula flower in that space, you need to improve your soil. It’s tired! How do you perk it up? One way: let a portion of your garden lay fallow for the summer, as is that bottom raised bed in the picture. But the soil is being replenished, courtesy of all the mulch on top of the bed.
Soils expert Steve Zien has faster acting tips for increasing the amount of microbial activity that’s taking place in your soil. And that’s one of the secrets to a bountiful harvest of fruits, vegetables and flowers.

We discuss the importance of testing your soil with a pH test kit and an N-P-K test kit, before making any amendments. To lower the pH, Zien suggests soybean meal, hydrolyzed fish fertilizer or earthworm castings. I like soil sulfur to lower the pH. To raise the pH, Zien suggests oyster shell lime or ground limestone.

Reasonably Priced Soil Testing:
University of Massachusetts/Amherst
Colorado State University

Use a soil probe or the Soil Sleuth to determine soil moisture before adding plants. Or, use my favorite moisture meter.

Zien says the best soil amendments include earthworm castings or good quality compost, which can be placed on top of the garden bed.

More information about Steve Zien's web presentation about soil health can be found here.

Don Shor of Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis, CA has a quick tip: don’t leave those plants you just purchased in 6-packs stay in that container for more than a day or two. Move them up to 4” pots and a good quality potting soil if you can’t get them in the ground right away.

It’s all on Episode 45 of Garden Basics with Farmer Fred: Feed Your Soil: the cool season garden edition, brought to you by Smart Pots. Visit smartpots.com/fred for more information and a discount on the original, lightweight, long-lasting fabric plant container, made in the USA.  And we will do it all in under 30 minutes.

More info including live links, product information, transcripts, and chapters available at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred.

Got a garden question? E-mail: fred@farmerfred.com or, leave a question at the Facebook, Twitter or Instagram locations below. 

All About Farmer Fred:
Farmer Fred website: http://farmerfred.com
Daily Garden tips and snark on Twitter
The Farmer Fred Rant! Blog
Facebook:  "Get Growing with Farmer Fred"
Instagram: farmerfredhoffman
Farmer Fred Garden Videos on YouTube




Farmer Fred :

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by smart pots the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. it's made in the USA. visit smart pots.com slash Fred for more information and a special discount. that's smart pots.com slash Fred. Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information well you've come to the right spot. Ripping out your summer garden to make room for the fall vegetable and flower garden? Before you stick one broccoli plant or one calendula flower in that space, you need to improve your soil. It's tired. So how do you perk it up? soils expert Steve Zien has tips for increasing the amount of microbial activity that's taking place in your soil. And that's one of the secrets to a bountiful harvest of fruits vegetables and flowers. It's All on episode 45 of Garden Basics with Farmer Fred: feed your soil - the cool season garden edition, and we're gonna do it all in under 30 minutes. Let's go. well, it's the change of seasons (kind of) and you might be ripping out your summer vegetable garden. goodbye tomatoes, squash and peppers. Hello broccoli, cauliflower, peas and whatever. But before you add your cool season vegetables to your garden... What about your soil? That would be what my guest would tell you. Steve Zien pedologist/ soil expert. We've talked before with Steve and one of the most popular episodes in the garden basics series has been where he's talked about feeding your soil. And Steve, as people change over the seasons to cool season just like they would change into the spring season in March or April. This time of year, You got to feed the soil because taking out plants and putting in other plants...well, those new plants may be getting off to a weaker start unless you did something to the soil first.

Steve Zien :

Yeah, exactly. And you know, you got to realize why do people when they're when they're thinking about, you know putting things down for the soil and to the soil for feeding the plants, what we have to realize is that the soil is alive. teaspoon of soil contains more microscopic organisms than there are people on earth. And it's these organisms that nurture your plants. They provide water, nutrients, and even pest management. And if you've got clay soil and I suspect a few of your listeners have clay soils, these are the organisms that create soil structure that will open up that clay soil so that water and air and nutrients and roots and everything can move through and function and they actually glue this sand, silt and clay particles together and create a diversity of forms. spaces so that you have these large pore spaces where air will exist in the soil without those large pore spaces. You don't have any air and people have a lot of problems with their soil. You know, the goal of fertilizing and amending the soil is to create this healthy soil. You want to feed the living soil. we want to get away from the whole idea of feeding the plant. It's all about creating a favorable environment for the soil biology because that's what takes care of your plant.

Farmer Fred :

Now most gardeners would think okay, I'm taking out my summer vegetable garden. I know those plants used up a lot of nitrogen so all I need to do is just add some nitrogen fertilizer and everything will be fine. In reality, if you did that, what would happen?

Steve Zien :

Not much. Especially depending upon what kind of fertilizer you use, what you just talked about, actually when I was in Ag school 3000 years ago, that's what we were taught, but they did not realize at that point that this or it was alive and we need to feed the soil. And one of the things that that you have to realize is that soil biology eat the most of this organic matter. And so you need to put in organic matter and you do that not by tilling the soil. tilling the soil destroys the soil structure, and actually ends up compacting the soil and kills the soil biology. So you just want to put these things on the soil surface. the best things that you can put down are worm castings, those are my favorite, especially if you got clay soils because they contain a lot of different kinds of soil biology; and compost, just put it on top of the soil. And then as you irrigate this time of year because we still have to irrigate and then later on in the season when we get rains, the rains and the irrigation will work that organic matter into the soil. Also, by putting that organic matter on the soil surface, worms will come up every single night and feed on that material and go back down in the morning. And they'll act as mother nature's rototillers. And so they're gonna, you know, that organic material - the compost and the worm castings - will eventually disappear because it's going to be going into the soil, feeding the soil biology and when you see that gone, it's time to add more.

Farmer Fred :

What is missing from soil at the end of a growing season?

Steve Zien :

Nitrogen is certainly one of them. And so you do want to add some sort of nitrogen source where ideally what I like to try and recommend people to do is do a soil test. Ideally, you send your soil off to a lab and you get a full analysis but that's more expensive and more complicated than a lot of people want to do. But you can go to your local nursery, and they have soil test kits that are Relatively accurate, accurate enough for our purposes and they will test the nitrogen, phosphorus, potash and the pH and then you will need to know whether you need to add more nitrogen phosphorus potash and or adjust the pH of your soil.

Farmer Fred :

Let's explain those terms before we go any further. I always thought our friend Gisele Schoniger of Kellogg Garden Products always put it best when explaining the roles of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Steve Zien :

She would say, I like her little her little poem.

Farmer Fred :

I don't remember the poem, but for NPK, The three letters represent up, down, and all around, that's the poem. Nitrogen gives you leafy green growth. The phosphorus improves the root structure of the plant.

Steve Zien :

Yes, phosphorus is also important in flower and fruit development..

Farmer Fred :

And then The K, the potassium, is basically for all around vigor and health.

Steve Zien :

Yeah, it helps all of the various functions of the plant operate properly.

Farmer Fred :

And pH is this interesting concept. It's short for percent hydrogen. And it refers to the acidity or alkalinity of the soil, which I've tried to explain to people that for all those soil critters down there that are feeding your plants, these are the tunnels they run through to get to the plants and the size of that tunnel for them to run through is determined by the pH of the soil,

Steve Zien :

right. And and the you know, the, the pH where that funnel is widest where the where the plants can get the most nutrients available, you know, that works for them is when the pH is roughly somewhere in the vicinity of like 6.2 or 6.3, or maybe even 6.4 to about seven which is actually 6.8

Farmer Fred :

slightly acid to neutral, basically

Steve Zien :

right. And the problem was with most of our soils in this area because I I've done lots of soil tests over the years

Farmer Fred :

this area being the United states of America.

Steve Zien :

no in the Sacramento region, all right, most of them but they they in the Sacramento region, most of them are above 7.0. or 7.2, and so that's a little alkaline and that does restrict some of the nutrients and in particular iron. And a lot of people in springtime their leaves, especially on their acid loving plants, turn yellow, and so they will go to the local nursery and say, you know, my gardenias or my blueberries, the leaves are turning yellow. And one of the issues is that the pH is just too high and the iron isn't available. in Almost all of the soil tests that I've done again, in this area, there's plenty of iron in the soil, it's just not available, because the pH is too high. And so what I've been trying, I work with an organization called "our water our world". And we tried to educate the nursery folks on how to minimize the use of pesticides for their client. And one of the things that we saw that people were having problems with with is this yellowing of the acid loving plants due to the high pH. And a lot of times people would just recommend iron and the nursery folks, we just recommend iron, all your plants are deficient in iron, you need to add iron to your soil. And the fact of the matter is there's plenty of iron in the soil. And so what I tried to convince them to do is tell them to buy a pH test kit. Let them test the pH of their soil and then they need to adjust the pH of their soil.

Farmer Fred :

So what do you add to soil to bring down that pH number?

Steve Zien :

some of the things and some of these include soybean meal, which would add nitrogen, fish hydrolyzate, which is similar to fish emulsion, it just manufactured a little different, you actually get more bang for your buck. compost made with a lot of brown material. earthworm castings, and paper, cardboard, cellulose, you can, you know, chop it up and just put it on the soil surface. Again, you're not mixing this stuff in the soil, you just putting it on.

Farmer Fred :

You know, what you're describing could also be called mulch as well. So if you put a woody mulch on the surface of your soil year round, you're going to have a more balanced soil.

Steve Zien :

Yes.

Farmer Fred :

talk about that.

Steve Zien :

Well, people, you know, get these woodchips and I really Like the woodchips because they have a diversity of particle size. And so the small particles break down and enter the soil very, very quickly and start nourishing the soil biology, which then starts nourishing your plant then in the bigger plate pieces last a little longer. And we'll provide the cooling effect in the summertime the warming effect in the wintertime. And conservator helps conserve moisture in the soil as well.

Farmer Fred :

And in fact, if you keep a four inch layer of natural mulch like that, and that could be the chipped/shredded tree parts from your local arborist as well, right? Yeah, by keeping that mulch on the soil, you are feeding the soil year round, which may mean you don't have to use as much fertilizer as you may be used to.

Steve Zien :

Exactly.

Farmer Fred :

Smart Pots are the original award winning fabric plant container. They're sold worldwide. Smart Pots are proudly made 100% in the USA. Smart Pots are also BPA free. There's no risk of chemicals leaching into the soil, your herbs, vegetables, and other edibles. That's why organic growers prefer Smart Pots. Smart Pots breathable fabric creates a healthy root structure for plants. Smart Pots come in a wide array of sizes and they can be reused year after year. Speaking of the cold weather that's on the way, if a frost or freeze is in the forecast, moving your frost tender plants that are in the Smart Pots that have handles makes them even easier to move closer to the house for added warmth or you could even move them inside for the winter. Visit Smart Pots dot com slash Fred for more information about the complete line of Smart Pots lightweight fabric containers. Its Smart Pots. the original award-winning fabric planter. go to Smart Pots dot com slash Fred for more info and that special farmer fred discount on your next Smart Pot purchase. Go to Smart Pots dot com slash Fred. We're talking with Steve Zien pedologist/soil expert about how to improve your soil for the cool season planting time which is upon us now. All right, so we've covered how to lower the pH. Now, for our friends listening where soils are naturally acidic. It's a low number they're always dealing with. Okay, how do we raise the pH to get it more towards neutral? How do you raise the pH?

Steve Zien :

That's actually much easier. One thing that you can use is wood ash. Normally for our soils, you don't want to add wood ash because like I said, most of our soils the pH is right on but you can also if you're trying to raise the pH you can use different forms of lime. Oystershell lime, and ground limestone work very, very well. There's also material called dolomite lime and in our area I generally don't recommend that goes in all the soils. test that I did. Most of the soils have very high to excessive amounts of magnesium and dolomite has not only lime but it also has magnesium and so it's adding more magnesium to a soil that probably has too much already. So you're better off with with your Oystershell lime and you can get that at at any nursery. you can also use compost that has a lot of green materials, aged compost indoors, grass clippings, but make sure to don't put them down to fit or they will mat up,

Farmer Fred :

dry them out.

Steve Zien :

Pardon me?

Farmer Fred :

pardon you. let them dry. Let them dry out first.

Steve Zien :

Yeah, that's a good idea. I mean, because it's the soil biology again that you know, helps a lot in the raising of the pH or lowering the pH it's the fungi and what you're trying to do when you're trying to lower the pH you're trying to feed the fungi because they put out acid materials when they're doing their thing, and then the bacteria, the excretions from the bacteria will help to raise the pH and so you're basically by adding these various things trying to get either back more bacteria or more fungi, active in your soil. It's all about the soil biology.

Farmer Fred :

Let's go back to adding ashes to the soil which can make your soil more alkaline. A couple of words of warning about that, especially if your soil is already near neutral or or is already alkaline. If you're going to add ash from the woodstove, you would only want to add I believe, one pound per 100 square feet in order to bring it up gradually.

Steve Zien :

before you add any wood ash as you need to test the pH and you can go to your local nursery and they sell just pH test kits. They're very inexpensive. And I would say if your pH is 6.7 or above, don't use wood ash. It makes a great present for your gardening friends that live back East because they have acidic soil.

Farmer Fred :

Alright, but now having established that, what about ash from the barbecue?

Steve Zien :

depending upon what they're using. if you're using you know the briquettes, which most people do, I certainly would not use that.

Farmer Fred :

because there's other stuff in there. You don't want it to go in the soil.

Steve Zien :

Yeah. And I use mesquite and when I barbecue and if my Ph was such that the wood ash would be appropriate which it is not, I wouldn't mind using that. but because my pH is high enough, I don't want to raise it anymore. I dispose of the wood ash. Basically don't use charcoal briquette ash in your garden? Definitely not. All right.

Farmer Fred :

Question came in, right up your alley, and also pertinent to what we're talking about here, it's an email from Kathy who says, "I have a question about my fall planting boxes. Is it okay for them to be resting in an unwatered state? If the beds are empty, should you still be watering them?"

Steve Zien :

You know, that kind of depends. I mean, it's helpful to keep the soil biology alive and active. What I would do is put down a mulch, again, my favorite is worm castings, or compost, and then you know, water occasionally. keep that soil somewhat moist and active. In if you've got a raised bed or box and you've got worms in there, those would probably die. most of the soil biology would probably go dormant but it would take them a little while to come back. So if it's just going to be for a couple of weeks, or maybe a month, I would probably keep it moist.

Farmer Fred :

And of course, if you live in an area that gets summer rain, you don't have to pay attention to what we're saying. But, if you live in an area where it never rains in the summertime, or it's so seldom that people take a holiday when it happens, basically, it needs to get moistened and fairly thoroughly moistened, too. I don't think a drip system in a raised bed turned on is going to thoroughly saturate the soil, I think you'd be better off setting up a sprinkler inside of it, and thoroughly saturating the soil that way. And if it's been dry for any length of time, at least a week or so before you plant your cool season crops, man, oh man, put that sprinkler on and let it water and make sure that that water has penetrated the full depth of the bed or at least eight to 12 inches.

Steve Zien :

Yeah, I personally I think if you've got your drip system set up properly, the drip system will work just fine. Just you've got to make sure to leave it on long enough so that that water you know penetrates throughout that entire raised bed or box.

Farmer Fred :

It depends as you would know, on the consistency of the soil. If it's a really a loose friable potting mix straight out of the bag that's in your raised beds, there's very little cross motion in that soil. And if you have drip emitters, it's going to be a very narrow cylinder of water that descends into the soil. Whereas in a garden bed that's comprised of sand, silt and clay, that footprint of water from each emitter is going to be probably twice as wide as what it would be in a raised bed.

Steve Zien :

Yeah, yeah. What you want to do whenever you irrigate, I mean, it's the only way to, in my opinion, to know how to irrigate when to irrigate, how much to irrigate. Which is basically how long and whether if you're using a drip system,to see whether you're getting good coverage, and that's to dig into your soil and in your garden and landscape where you're dealing with soil. I think a soil probe is probably the better tool to utilize in a raised bed. They've got it what's called a Soil Sleuth. Both of them are available online. basically what you do is you put you push these things in the ground, you pull them out and there will be soil in these tools and you will actually be able to look at them and feel them to find out whether they are moist and by shoving them in various places. After you're done irrigating, you will be able to see whether you're getting the coverage like we were just talking about throughout that raised bed. And if not, then you're gonna want to you know, apply it over the top, like you were saying.

Farmer Fred :

The soil sleuth is an interesting contraption. It is so simple to look at. It is ingenious in its design. It looks like a red candy cane. It's got notches. It's got notches along the inside of the long arm. And basically you just plunge that candy cane into the ground, give it a quarter turn, lift it out. And there are little pockets of soil on each of those notches that you can feel.

Steve Zien :

Yeah, it's very, very cool and it works really really well in a loose soil. But if you're putting it in the winter clay garden soil, it might be difficult. I use both I use both the soil sleuth and the and the soil probe.

Farmer Fred :

Okay, explain how the soil probe works.

Steve Zien :

The soil probe is basically a tube and a portion of the side of it is like an open window and you push that in the ground give it a little twist and pull it out. And you will see the whole thing. There will be the whole column the soil will be there and you will be able to see whether those this soil is moist at various depths as far down as you pushed it in. and So what I generally tell people is you use this Soil probe to make sure before you irrigate, that the soil is dry enough where it merits irrigation because one of the biggest problems people have in areas where you have to irrigate a lot in the summertime because they don't get rain is the irrigate too frequently and so the soil stays too wet. Especially in the Sacramento area where we get hot sun sunny days, the surface of the soil, if you water in the morning, by the time you get home from work that surface or if you don't have a mulch on, will be bone dry and people always think oh, I need to irrigate again. But if you would use your soil probe, you would find that when you go down an eighth of an inch and that soils probably moist if not wet, and so it will by putting it in the ground and pulling it out it will indicate when the soil is dry enough to merit irrigation, then how much irrigation Do you need. I tell people what with Typically water, half as long as you normally do, wait an hour, give gravity the chance to pull it down as far as it's going to go. Push the soil probe in the ground again, pull it out, and you will see how far down that that water has penetrated. And if it's gone down four inches, and you're the roots of your plants are going down to eight inches, you've got to double the amount of water. It does require a little bit of math.

Farmer Fred :

We've learned a lot again from Steve Zien pedologist/soil expert, Steve, thanks for your time.

Steve Zien :

Uhh, You're welcome. It's been fun.

Farmer Fred :

What does that mean? Like something else you wanted to say?

Steve Zien :

Well, I do have a webinar that people might be interested in.

Farmer Fred :

When is it, Mr. Shill?

Steve Zien :

It's a water smart Foundation, healthy soil, happy landscape workshop that the city of Citrus Heights Water District sponsors, and it's basically talking About a lot of the things that we've been talking about today, and you can go to our website, organiclandscape.com , and click on the news and events tab and it's listed there. Or you can go to the Citrus Heights Water District website and click on event or events link, and you'll find it there as well.

Farmer Fred :

Is this open to anybody that lives in the United States of America?

Steve Zien :

The entire universe. Okay. Not just planet earth.

Farmer Fred :

So my listeners in Bulgaria can learn something from Citrus Heights.

Steve Zien :

Sure.

Farmer Fred :

go to Steve's website, organic landscape.com. Or is it "landscapes" I always forget.

Steve Zien :

Organic landscape. No "S". Okay. And then click on the news and events, link.

Farmer Fred :

There you go. And you can find out and you could watch it right away. Steve Zien, thanks very much.

Steve Zien :

It's been great. I appreciate it.

Farmer Fred :

Got a quick tip for you from Don Shor of redwood barn Nursery in Davis, California. maybe you're at the nursery and you can't resist a bargain. And you notice those six packs of vegetables or flowers. Well, they may be a bargain, but they won't be a bargain If you take it home and you let them sit in those six packs. Don Shor says maybe while you're at the nursery, pick up some empty four inch pots and some good potting soil. And then when you get home, move them on up to those bigger pots and better soil and you'll have a healthier transplant in two or three weeks.

Don Shor :

Well, just this morning, I took some six packs of Napa cabbage that were fully rooted in and I didn't want to put them in the ground yet. So I shifted them up into four inch pots just so they get them off to another little stage. two to four weeks of growth before they go in the ground. Keep them growing, keep them moving. Don't let them sit around in those packs and get rootbound. so go ahead and do that extra step, putting them in a reasonable quality potting soil in a four inch pot. The plants will be growing and vigorous when you put them in the ground.

Farmer Fred :

And of course those plastic four inch pots are reusable. however, before you reuse it, give it a thorough cleaning. That way you won't transfer any soil borne diseases to your new crops. Garden Basics comes out every Tuesday and Friday and it's available just about anywhere podcasts are handed out. And that includes Apple podcast, Google podcasts, I Heart Radio, overcast, Spotify, stitcher, tune in, and hey, Alexa, play the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, would you please? Thank you for listening, subscribing and leaving comments. We appreciate it.

Feed Your Soil - The Cool Garden Season Edition
Smart Pots!
Quick Tip: Move up the 6-pack plants to larger containers when you get home.