12 February 2015

Sustainable practices for home gardeners

Andy Qualls speaking “Conservation, organic methods and cover crops in the home garden”
Muskogee Garden Club Feb 26, 9:30 to 11
Kiwanis Senior Center 119 Spaulding BL
Information – Susan Asquith 918-682-3688
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The first slide of Andy Qualls’presentation at Muskogee Garden Club next week says that deficient soil can only produce deficient vegetation, deficient vegetation can only produce deficient nutrition and deficient nutrition will always produce deficient crops, livestock and wildlife.

“Healthy soil has sufficient nutrients to produce healthy plants and crops,” said Qualls. “It also has the necessary biological, chemical and microbiological balance and physical properties that allow the plants to have access to soil nutrition.”

Qualls is the technician and information coordinator for Muskogee County Conservation District. He works with land owners, growers and gardeners to help them convert from chemical-based growing methods that require a lot of supplemental water.

“A lot of these methods started years ago and in other parts of the world where there is less moisture,” Qualls said. “The concept of healthy soil has been around forever. What it comes down to is four keys: 1) Limit soil disturbance such as tilling; 2) Cover, shield or protect the soil from wind, rain, erosion, compression and heat; 3) Increase the diversity of soil organisms through gardening practices; and, 4) Keep live roots growing in the soil at all times.”

Although Qualls uses commercially available fertilizers and does not think we should all completely stop using them, his primary recommendations are compatible with organic gardening methods.

“Organic methods are rewarding because you are building the soil rather than just using it up,” Qualls said.

He pointed out that when gardeners use the put and take method of putting in seeds and taking out produce they lose the biodiversity needed for healthy ground. In the end all they are left with is grains of minerals that the wind can blow away.

The methods he recommes are not only sustainable and good for the earth, but will require less water, rarely require fertilizers, and will produce greater yields of whatever is planted.

“Grow a mulch-cover in your garden by planting peas, beans, vetch or rye,” said Qualls. “Do not pull it up by the roots but roll it down, leaving the roots in the ground. Then, plant through the mulch created by the knocked-over plant material.”

When asked about the use of fertilizers, Qualls said that following these practices will eliminate the need for them after a few years but that all gardeners should have a soil test done to see what is actually needed to bring their soil nutrients up to healthy levels.

“In particular, phosphorus is a water pollutant and is being removed from all fertilizers available to home gardeners,” said Qualls. “In my mind the simple answer to covering most garden situations is adding compost on an on-going basis. Compost is the number one answer to fertility problems.”

Most plant-root diseases are caused by soil that is too wet. Adding compost helps build air passages in the soil where earthworms and microbes live and where water is both retained and drained after the plant roots take what they need.

Qualls said, “A one-percent increase of organic material such as compost or cover crops residue is equal to the retention of 19,000 gallons of water per acre.”

Gardeners can easily make their own compost pile and create a high-quality compost to add to flowers, herbs, vegetables and trees. Purchased compost will never measure up to the quality of home-made according to Qualls.

“Not all insects and weeds are bad,” Qualls said. “Find a balance. A diversity of plant life brings diversity of animals and arthropods that benefit the garden.”

Arthropods include what we think of as bugs, insects, butterflies, moths, etc. There are 1,170,000 described species. They account for 80% of all known living animals. Learn which methods attract the good ones.
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Download free copy of book
“Building Soils for Better Crops” at
http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Building-Soils-for-Better-Crops-3rd-Edition


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