The Road Home

The Road Home
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Monday, February 10, 2014

What Is Good For The Garden?

Okay. I really should just quit complaining and whining about the cold and the snow and the cold and the cold. But, really, I'm rather tired of it, and I'm sure there are many of you that are as well. It would help if I could just have a few days of sunshine. We have had more cloudy, cold, dreary days this winter than I ever remember. Even in Alaska! Well, no, that isn't right. I know we had more darkness and snow in Alaska, it's just that I don't live there anymore, and we moved south for a reason. There have been many a winter day here that we could work outside in our shirt sleeves and be perfectly comfortable. That is not the case this winter. 

So, a week or so ago when I was whining about the cold and the snow a friend of mine said something like, "Well, the snow is really good for the nitrogen in our gardens." Thanks, CB! I knew I had heard something about that in the past, but it was a vague memory. So while I am sitting here wondering what to write about, looking out the window at the foggy, cold weather, and waiting for yet another round of snow tonight and tomorrow, I remembered her comment and decided to do some research. Here is something I found.

On AgWeb, May 2, 2012 is the following information: 
A blanket of post-thaw snow is currently falling over parts of the Midwest from Oklahoma to the Great Lakes. A subscriber asked a question this morning as joke, but a little research showed that there is nitrogen in snow. In fact, snows before or after the ground has thawed can yield some great benefits to your soil.

As precipitation falls through the atmosphere, it collects atmospheric nitrogen which is in the NH2 form. When snow collects on thawed soil, it slowly melts, allowing a slow-release of NH2 into the soil profile. Conversion to NH3 and nitrate fixing takes place without the microbial paralyzing effects of commercial anhydrous ammonia. Since the ground is already thawed, most of the moisture and nitrogen seep into the soil profile, adding to the total nitrogen content.

This means I should be very thankful for all of this snow and cold weather, right? It will only increase the fertility of my garden soil and add food to my table. So, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! But after this week, I hope it's over. Period. My garden has enough nitrogen.

Then I had a conversation with another friend, Grace, about the rotation of garden crops. I have known about this for a while and try to practice it when I can. That's why I keep my garden maps from previous years to use when planning out a new garden. While I was looking through several of my garden books, I came across this information which was a good refresher course for me, so I thought I would share it. In The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control, on page 418 there are "Rules for Rotation" which include, in condensed form:
  • Alternate crops as many ways as possible
  • Leave as much time as possible between related crops, even three to six years
  • Include soil improving crops
  • Grow legumes before grains
  • Apply compost or manure to those crops that need it most
  • Some crops, including onions, lettuce and squash, seem to benefit any planting that follow them
  • Plant heavy feeding crops such as corn, tomatoes and cabbage the season before light feeders such as root vegetables
  • Make efficient use of garden space by planting overwintering crops, like carrots, after crops that are harvested in late summer
  • Certain soil borne diseases attack a broad spectrum of crops, and a more complex rotation is necessary to prevent infection
  • Record your successes and failures; use this information to plan future rotations

The size of our garden limits our ability to rotate some of our crops. So we do what we can. Some of our pests, such as squash bugs, don't have far to travel to the newly planted area to find a nice tasty snack. So we try to encourage beneficial insects as much a possible, such as assassin bugs and preying mantis. Plus we try feeding any insect eggs and bugs we don't want around the garden to the chickens.

Another way to impact the bug population in your garden is your cultivation routine. The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food, page 303, covers the importance of fall cultivation. Their recommendation is to clean the garden of all plant debris and till or cultivate about 3 inches deep for regular maintenance. To impact insect problems, cultivate up to 6 inches deep to expose eggs and larvae to birds and other predators. This is very good advice, and if it works out that you can accomplish this, it can be very beneficial. 

This year a very wet fall and winter have prevented us from working our garden the way we would like. If the ground dries up enough we hope to till a couple of times before we are ready to start our spring planting. We will see. So, as we pass through these cold, snowy days of winter, I will continue to plan and dream of spring and the garden. I hope the garden this year is another time of learning and excitement, and not a desperate quest for food to see us through next winter. That is something to think about.

Until next time - Fern


  1. When I read "what's good for the garden?" the first thing that popped into my head was (from the 1st grade) Pocahontas putting a fish in the hole to feed the corn seed she was about to plant as she was showing the pilgrims how to garden.
    A long sentence ....

    1. I have read many things about using fish meal or emulsion for fertilizer in the garden, but since we have an abundance of barnyard and a shortage of fish emulsion, we choose to use the barnyard. It's a good memory to have, though.

      Thanks for sharing.


  2. This will make you feel instantly better. I have 60* weather, the clouds are huge and fluffy, birds everywhere and people walking constantly by my house, enjoying it all. But I can't enjoy it with them-I cannot walk. When your weather is better and you can garden, be eternally grateful for that priviledge. I know you will.

    1. Your weather sounds heavenly. I thank you very much for sharing. And, yes, I am eternally grateful for all that I can do. I carry two things in my wallet, laminated together and have for years.

      I shall pass through this world but once. If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do, let me do it now; let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. Greller

      Count Your Blessings
      I sighed because the day was dark-
      And then I met a child who had no eyes.
      I complained because the walk was long-
      Until I met a man who had no legs.
      I prayed for wealth beyond my need-
      and then I met a poor soul with no bread at all.
      Oh, God, forgive me-
      for the world is mine!

      Thank you for reminding me to be grateful each and every day. May God and peace be with you.